Girls, let’s seize the opportunities in cybersecurity

March 04, 2024 22:15

According to 2024 Tech Trends, a report by market intelligence firm CB Insights (“CBI”), the number of cyberattack attempts in 2023 was more than doubled from the previous year, and the number of hackers demanding ransomware payments also surged last year, with cybercriminals receiving an estimated US$1.1 billion worth of ransoms, the highest amount on record.

A cybersecurity company's chief executive pointed out that generative AI makes it “easier for less advanced attackers to crack nation-state-caliber campaigns.” Among them, the number of phishing email attacks (which refers to the spoofing of a legitimate website or email for fraudulent purposes) has exploded with the help of ChatGPT. CBI cites a security vendor's record that these malicious emails have increased by several folds in just nine months from the fourth quarter of 2022 to the third quarter of last year.

A similar trend has been observed in Hong Kong. According to the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre, the total number of security incidents since January 2018 involving "botnets" (i.e. attacks on personal computers infected by malicious software to intrude on the control server from the hackers) has seen the highest. However, phishing has become a major threat in recent years, and in the past 12 months (February 2023 to January 2024), it has jumped to the top of the list of security threats, accounting for half of the total number of cybersecurity incidents (4,109 cases), while botnets have only taken a back seat of 36%.

Cybercrime covers a wide range of areas, from the damage and destruction of data or property of organisation and personnel, embezzlement of public funds, to theft of intellectual property rights, resulting in damage to the reputation of the victim or the organisation, disruption of normal business operations, damage to productivity, and even interference with investigation and evidence collection.

U.S.-based cybersecurity research firm Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that global cybercrime losses will reach US$10.5 trillion annually by 2025, more than three times the amount in 2015. If measured as a single country economy, cybercrime would be the world's third-largest economy after the U.S. and China.

Meanwhile, cybercrime is a massive wealth theft or robbery at scale larger than the global annual cost of natural disasters (US$313 billion, 2022), stifling innovation and investment.

As the internet has become an indispensable part of life, the importance of network security is self-evident. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. predicts that the number of cybersecurity jobs will increase by 32% over the next decade, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. Executive search firm Venturenix also pointed out last year that Hong Kong needs 100,000 new IT blood in the next five years, including 30,000 software engineers.

Cybersecurity is essential if Hong Kong is to become an innovation and technology hub, and to develop a new low-altitude economy (such as delivery by drones, passenger transport by flying taxi). Therefore, talent training has become a top priority.

For those who have an aptitude to attend to minor details is a prerequisite for spotting cybercrime, and women are believed to be particularly skillful in this aspect. A Cybersecurity Ventures survey estimates that women will have better opportunities to occupy more of these positions in the industry, including in medical, automotive, aviation, military defense, and other fields. Girls, let’s seize the opportunities in the new year!

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong