Cybersecurity experts are under constant stress, especially lately, as they are at the front lines of cyber warfare. A veteran in this field, Marek Boguszewicz, says he has seen it all through his almost 40-year-long career, but the last 3-4 years were as intense as ever before.
Recently, the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, a Washington-based think tank, published a white paper called The Fourth Industrial Revolution & Cyberspace’s Mental Health Stigma. Its authors seek to shine a light on the psychological aspects of rapid technological transformation and call for legislation around technology and data sovereignty.
CyberNews spoke to the researchers behind the paper to find out how technology affects our mental health.
“The problem is that a lot of people are misusing the technology, and a lot of people are suffering,” Christina Liang-Boguszewicz, co-author of the paper, told CyberNews.
So what does this suffering entail? Technological evolution comes with a fear of losing a job for some of us, constant worry about being hacked and exposed online, cyberbullying, and various other aspects. For those standing at the bow of this ship, for example, cybersecurity experts, it translates into increased stress as organizations and governments are being attacked 24/7.
The emotional digital world syndrome
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) brings a world of opportunities for organizations of all sizes to adopt technologies not only to survive but thrive. It will fundamentally transform the global system of labor production, forcing job-seekers to develop new skills needed to adapt to automation.
Sounds great, right? Well, as with any other, there are significant downsides to it. Rapid technological transformation has a weighty impact on our mental health.
Experts claim that with artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics engines, geolocation, and third-party digital marketers, there is a clear and present danger on all digital fronts. Humans being biological entities, are now experiencing the Emotional Digital World Syndrome. Systems are interconnected at millisecond speed, and one platform or application is linked to another by direct or third-party means.
“The word syndrome is a composite of different symptoms. Digital syndrome is a composite of all different inputs within it. Those are different attack vectors,” Marek Boguszewicz explained.
The first attack vector, of course, is social media. Last year, there were 4,1 billion social active accounts. At the end of this year, the projection is 4,2 billion.
In addition to this, 40% of people in the United States report having at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition. Veterans of many wars, and not only them, of course, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Increased digital presence only adds up to mental issues.
“Secondly, you have a new cybersecurity landscape model, which is called XDR (Extended Detection and Response). XDR is cloud network infrastructure and third parties, and we see a huge volume increase in ransomware as a service, including different kinds of bots, AI, and automation attack ecosystems. It, in summary, is a digital syndrome, which is a synopsis of all of these different attack vectors, and all of these different factors taken into consideration,” Boguszewicz said.
XDR brings a proactive approach to threat detection and response. It delivers visibility into data across networks, clouds, and endpoints while applying analytics and automation to address today’s increasingly sophisticated threats.
The fear of change
Probably, you read and hear quite often that robots are here to steal our jobs. And while technology is most certainly replacing humans in some sectors and taking the most mundane tasks from their shoulders, it also creates many other job opportunities. As long as you are willing to adopt change and go through some training, of course.
Boguszewicz believes that fears arise from a lack of understanding. It is a common human emotional response when (s)he does not have all facts at hand.
“Change by its very nature is breeding fear. Every time people are out of their comfort zone, there are massive fears, and the vast majority, if you ask them to break down what they think is going on, they will give ‘well, my job is going to be stolen.’ But there are no facts behind it for the moment for this to be born out,” he said.
The job market is evolving, and digital evolution brings in many new different types of jobs.
“With technology, what happens is there will be different technology jobs. If you look at the US at the moment, there are 280,000 open positions in cybersecurity in the United States alone,” he said.
Previous industrial revolutions brought upon society some major changes. For example, the automotive revolution in the 1920s was the end of horses as transportation. Yet, society did not collapse as the automotive industry created so many jobs. The mechanical revolution forced people to learn how to work in a factory instead of doing manual work.
“A taxi driver, for example, says that if you have a self-automated car, then my job is gone. But then, a taxi driver would need to revisit his training and maybe work in cybersecurity. There are always opportunities, and there are always industrial revolutions as we go on,” Boguszewicz said.
The more you know – the better off and… more stressed you are
It might seem that people who are not relying on technology heavily for their daily life might be better off as those who are diving deeper into digital waters constantly fear being hacked and exposed. Yet, not knowing about the digital risks does not make them any less dangerous or true. Unless you are completely off the grid, you are a target for cybercriminals.
“If you go and look at malware, at the moment, the African countries are in deep trouble. If you look at places like Eritrea, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola, Central Republic of Congo, if you look at the malware statistics, their companies are being attacked every hour, but they are not reporting it because they do not want it to go out into the news, but it is leaking out,” Boguszewicz said.
There are many advanced persistent threat groups, leave alone small opportunist cyber criminals just looking for ways to capitalize on people’s fears around sensitive issues.
“The more you learn, the more you realize you are being attacked daily. And there is a third world war going on in cyberspace, even though no nuclear weapons are being launched. It has been going on for years. Russia, China, America, Europe, everyone is having a cyberspace war. They are all attacking each other constantly, every single day. The more knowledge you get, the more you realize what is going on,” the expert explained.
Cybersecurity professionals are at the bow of this ship. And knowing it all about the gravity of the cyber situation stresses them out.
The pressure on cybersecurity experts
Mental health has a critical impact on professionals in the industry and influences cybersecurity practices. Depression, burnout, and suicide are becoming increasingly common among the industry experts, authors of the white paper concluded. Stress, depression, and anxiety can lead to erratic impulses. These impulses manifest in various forms and can be used to justify extreme behavior such as data theft or the destruction of systems.
“I have been in technology for 38 years, I can tell you I have seen everything, all different environments and attack vectors, and I’ have never seen as much as it has been in the last 3-4 years,” Boguszewicz said.
Cybersecurity wellness, according to him, is basically like PTSD, if you are a veteran of a cyber battle and know your company, organization, or government is under constant attack.
“Believe me, people I know in cyber feel like they are in a pressure cooker 24/7,” he said.
Make data unhackable
“If you want to escape from it all, then you can go off the grid and live in the woods, and lots of people are doing that to escape,” Boguszewicz said.
Obviously, it is not an option for many of us. Boguszewicz reckons that DLT 3.0, a hashgraph-based solution allowing immutability of data and data sovereignty, is the answer.
“67% of hacks out there are password hacks. To beat the hackers, you have to make data unhackable. Say, I have a video on Netflix, and I send you the movie file. If that file has an embedded hash, you cannot watch the video because you do not have the private key to open it. If a hacker stole my data and all my movies on my Netflix account, and that data is hash encrypted with a blockchain hash, there is nothing they can do with it,” he said.
Firewalls and other protective measures that have been around for more than 20 years are no longer enough, and we need to make sure that data is unreadable.
“When you get to that point where data that is stolen is unreadable to the ransomware attack, it becomes useless to cybercriminals, and that is one way that we can do it,” he said.
Boguszewicz sees a need for data sovereignty laws that would clearly state that an individual, not his government or any company, owns his data.
“Your government does not own your data. Your data is yours. Why should some third party, whether it is a government or not, store your data? Do you want your medical records floating around the internet? No. Do you want any of your data from wherever owned by Facebook? In the end, what we will have is data sovereignty laws, where we will give our information through applications in a secure DLT 3.0 to companies and governments. That is the future, and the battle is on,” he said.