This October marked the 11th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, a month-long series of events and exercises dedicated to educating the public about the best ways to keep their digital information secure. The initiative is part of the federal government’s ongoing mission to bolster the country’s digital defenses, and ensure that cyber security professionals are prepared to face mounting technological threats. With all of the recent, high-profile security faults and breaches that have resulted in the exposure of essential data, programs like these are proving more and more relevant.

As Cyber Security Awareness Month has ended, it’s important to remember why maintaining a secure digital environment is so important – not just for businesses and government agencies, but for individuals all over the country.

Why is Cyber Security Important?

In the age of “Big Data”, the emerging infrastructure that allows for immediate access to wider arrays of information than the world has ever seen before, maintaining secure computer networks is essential. Whether these networks hold customer information or classified files, one breach or vulnerability in such massive, interconnected systems can create a significant crisis. Not only does this represent a major threat to individual privacy, but also to the health of the global economy.

According to the HP-sponsored Cost of Cyber Crime study, the average annual cost to businesses worldwide (per organization) was $11.56 million, with some suffering as much as a $58 million loss over the course of the year. This is a 26% increase over 2012, and a 78% increase since the first Cost of Cyber Crime report was issued 4 years ago.

Additionally, the time to resolve these attacks also increased by 55%, with 32 days being the national average. Each day spent resolving these crises cost businesses, on average, $32,469. These substantial costs can be a devastating blow to any business, especially smaller ones. According to the report, small businesses, while their costs may not be as substantial, incur much higher costs per capita to address a cyber attack.

But the report wasn’t entirely negative. The findings also suggested that those who actively made use of dedicated cyber security technologies were able to save an average of $4 million in 2013. While it’s a promising sign that cyber security methods are indeed effective, the need for expert professionals that can develop and employ these solutions remains incredibly high. As of today, neither the private nor public sector is prepared to face this growing challenge.

As mentioned above, government agencies have made a tremendous effort to promote cyber security awareness and develop a well-trained workforce to address digital threats. The FBI, NSA, and DoD have all taken steps to challenge growing trends in cybercrime. As the government continues to use its own Big Data systems to house sensitive intelligence, the need for skilled professionals to keep these structures secure is expected to grow. For the government, a breach doesn’t just bring unexpected costs – it could spell a threat to national security. As “hacktivism” becomes more prevalent, the stakes will only continue to go up.

What You Can Do to Help

We can all do more to stay aware of our own impact on information security whether working in the field or not. There are a number of resources available to those looking to maintain a high-level of cyber security awareness. Check out the Department of Homeland Security Stop.Think.Connect. site to learn more about how you can help keep our digital resources secure.

If you’re interested in becoming an expert cyber security professional, businesses and high-profile government agencies alike need your help. Valparaiso University offers a 100% online Master of Science in Cyber Security that’s specifically developed to help you build the skills employers are seeking. Click here to learn more about the program.

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