Leveraging technology advancement and mitigating risks
Every leap forward in technology can be a leap forward in human benefit, if managed properly.
Innovation, technology and digital advancements have brought us to some of the most exciting times in civilisation. We have gone from tellers to ATMs, cheque books to electronic cards, rotary to mobile phones, from paying bills over the counter and balancing cheque books to online payments. Today, at the click of a mouse or the touch of a button, big business is yielding returns we never thought possible.
The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in particular has proven most beneficial. We are now capable of processing big data into meaningful information at lightning speeds. For example cassava farmers in Tanzania are able to protect their crops through the use of an app that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to diagnose diseases.
By waving the phone over blighted cassava leaves the app scans through large datasets of images that depict multiple diseases cassava plants may have; and within seconds identifies precisely what the problem is as well as profer solutions. This incredible processing power is available and is being utilised by individuals and corporations around the world to unleash valuable solutions.
Another practical example that people come across everyday is the use of Google Maps. For the past 10 years, our approach to mapmaking in most of the world combined data from users, third parties, operators, and algorithms to build useful maps.
However, in places evolving as quickly as Nigeria, a new approach is required. We have trained a machine learning system to recognize address information from StreetView, satellite imagery, and even handwritten addresses on buildings; and then use that information to automatically add buildings onto the map.
In the past year, we’ve added over 10M buildings to our Nigerian map, making it more accurate. So the next time you get directions from Google Maps, that is a real life use case of AI and ML.
Every leap forward in technology can be a leap forward in benefit, if managed properly. Technology solutions require data and the more advanced solutions that involve the use of AI and ML require access to big data – millions of bits of information.
All this information can be used to generate valuable solutions if accessed by the right parties. It can also be a source of risk. While continued innovation is necessary for any business to thrive, it is essential that strategies are in place to ensure that the data that those solutions rely on are not vulnerable to infiltration or unauthorised access by internal/external parties.
Unauthorised access can take various forms such as rudimentary phishing techniques, password attacks, distributed denial of service attacks, drive by download attacks, and man in the middle attacks to name just a few. They are all aimed at the same thing: Stealing information or incapacitating the C.I.A. (confidentiality, integrity, and availability) of your business data.
A few deliberate actions by solution providers however, can guarantee safety and security of data, ensuring that individuals get the best out of technology and are protected. The five steps below are essential parts of a comprehensive risk management strategy.
Identifying vulnerabilities, threats and risks: the potential for external attack varies from business to business, and it is crucial that they are recognised and thwarted.
Vulnerability is a known weakness of an asset that can be exploited by one or more attackers; a threat is a new incident with the potential to cripple the business, while risk is the potential for damage when a threat explores vulnerability – e.g. financial losses due to business disruption. Being proactive in spotting the weak links in your organisation and bolstering them keeps you a step ahead in ensuring data security.
A robust, full-service internet security suite: professional grade anti-virus software can provide protection against known and emerging malware and viruses. Keeping this software up-to-date means that gaps in protection are closed as soon as they are discovered.
Employee integrity: ensure that employees understand the importance of data security, change access codes regularly, and implement a sign-off policy that should insist that employees return laptops and mobile devices before they leave the premises if necessary.
Business continuity plan: it is important to be able to return to the last secure point in your company’s operations and continue to carry out business with minimal impact on staff or clients after an attack. Robust plans for disaster recovery and high availability also feed into business stability. Comprehensive cloud services can help keep the company running smoothly even after a threat or successful attack.
Enforcing data protection levels: it’s worth mentioning that even in a secure environment, there are different levels of sensitivity for information. The protection approach used should be designed to protect the most sensitive information. Two-factor authentication processes, additional passwords for sensitive files, encrypted content and limited access minimise risk and safeguards the business’ core. More robust solutions are being introduced to this space that leverage blockchain encryption and data protection technologies.
The digital revolution started at the turn of the century. It has brought a lot of gains, and shows no signs of slowing down. By proactively preparing and protecting against unauthorised access, organisations can protect data as well as the technology solutions infrastructure; to ensure the benefits of the innovative trends can continue to be tapped into.
Ehimuan is Country Director at Google leading Google’s business strategy in W/Africa and Next Billion Users initiative in Africa.
Named Forbes top 20 power women in Africa, and featured in BBC Africa Power Women series, Juliet is a thought leader on digital business strategy and leadership. She was recently featured by the London Business School as one of 30 people changing the world. She is the Founder of Beyond Limits Africa, a leadership and organizational capacity building initiative. You can connect with Juliet on social mediia: @jehimuan. Juliet was also featured as a Guardian Woman.