Few years ago, while attending a business analytics workshop, I came across a question that how Whatsapp remained an ad-free app? If they don’t give ads, how are they able to make money, a fellow participant asked. The question got all of us thinking as we were enlightened that the app sells consumer data. At that time, the magnitude of the revelation didn’t really hit us as seriously, but now when cyber security seems to be in chaos, everything is falling into place. The extent to which our data is secure still leaves a question mark. Just the other day I was having a discussion with a friend about how I keep seeing ads of various products on my Facebook and Instagram even when I don’t search for them. It’s like we’re talking about the product and the next thing you know, it has popped up everywhere on social networking sites. Similarly, location sensors pick up places on its radar as we pass by them on daily commutes, then the same places are advertised to us on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram through sponsored content. This has left me feeling intrigued and in all honesty, a little freaked out as well. In this day and age, everyone claims to have secure networks with even our messages being encrypted, but is that really the case? Is our data really up for grabs? Earlier this year, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg found himself in deep waters as the social networking site faced severe backlash from users. Reports surfaced that Cambridge Analytica has obtained data of as many as 50 million users. The damage was done globally as users from all over the world were concerned about their privacy being compromised. Facebook had to make privacy changes in order to repair its public image and restore the trust of more than 2 billion users. Even before the crisis, it was a known fact that Facebook makes money by using user data and selling targeted advertisements. As per the Annual Cyber Security Report issued by a tech multinational, it’s important for organizations to gain tactical and operational insights to gauge how they can be targeted and then invest wisely in optimized security. This is how they will discover the latest threats In Pakistan, the recent scam involving a few banks being hacked raised a lot of questions among consumers. Hackers were able to steal large amounts of money from accounts and the data of almost all account holders was compromised. The news of data being sold on the dark web after the security breach was met with a population having no idea what the dark web really is. However, the attack made it quite clear that there is a significant need to improve and adopt optimized network security measures. Cyber security has now become a dynamic, everyday concern due to the exponential growth of data and lack of skilled personnel to protect it. Hackers will always try to get a shot and exploit the organization’s vulnerabilities. As per the Annual Cyber Security Report issued by a tech multinational, it’s important for organizations to gain tactical and operational insights to gauge how they can be targeted and then invest wisely in optimized security. This is how they will discover the latest threats. A Security Operations Center (SOC) is the most critical component when it comes to responding to threats. Unfortunately, the number of SOC teams are under-skilled, understaffed and overworked. According to statistics by ESG Research, 51 percent of the surveyed organizations have a ‘problematic shortage’ of cyber security skills. Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) conducted a study which revealed that 70 percent of cyber security experts have reported complications, which include overworked staff, need of new hiring and training, and inability to completely utilize security technologies. Companies now have to think beyond individual threats as security challenges are becoming more formidable day by day. With advanced technology, the attacks are getting increasingly sophisticated and are carried out in a targeted manner. Spokesperson of a world’s leading IT security and data protection firm – Barracuda Networks, pointed out that the common approach for IT security involves focusing on individual threats, however, in today’s environment it’s not that simple anymore. The internet surface is expanding due to virtualization, mobile internet and cloud. Organizations should be able to cover these areas and make the shift towards optimized network security, before it’s too late. The areas of exposure are spread far and wide and may include web browsing, web applications, email, remote access and network perimeters. The chances that all these areas can be threatened, even in parts, are pretty good. Spyware, virus, worms and Trojan horses are some of the fancy names given to malicious software threatening a network’s security. With time, malware such as these will become harder to detect and shutdown. It’s about time that malware is taken more seriously and not as a mere virus which can be removed from the computer. It shouldn’t be treated as a nuisance anymore and should be recognized as what it really is i.e. a gigantic business. Just as any business wants to grow, flourish and increase its earnings, malware developers will keep on hurling malicious threats which will become sneakier and harder to detect. The question, however, remains that whether companies are equipped enough for tackling these security threats before they cause any serious damage. A number of companies, such as Jaffer Business Systems, are operating in Pakistan and providing network and security solutions. These companies have partnered with some of the leading global security providers such as Kaspersky Lab, Barracuda, Snode, Sophos Endpoint Security and XG Firewall to make their processes sturdier. Businesses should be prepared to address spooked security-savvy customers in case a security breach occurs. Sharing a security commitment statement always comes in handy and allows the company to provide clear and honest communication about the company’s perspectives on security. It’s a scary world out there with all the recent high-end security threats in news lately. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to understand consumer concerns and go the extra mile to assure that their security and privacy is being taken seriously. Kiran Farooq is a freelance writer and communications practitioner. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her blog, Sparks & Yellow, on Instagram Published in Daily Times, January 17th 2019.