I am afraid that the recent cyber-attack on the NHS is a sign of things to come. It should serve as a warning as to the risk of the inevitable. The extent that we are digitally reliant and connected and the path we are on needs to be fully appreciated. Whilst not yet widely introduced, computer software can now correctly diagnose an illness 90% of the time, compared to 70% for a doctor. Some Facebook software is significantly better at recognising faces than any human could ever be. Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars, or even transport drones that you summon with the supercomputer in your pocket are all just a few years away.
All of this is a progression that you would expect in a rapidly advancing digital world. But we can expect that there will always be those that have an alternative agenda who seek to do harm for whatever reason.
The current round of ransomware could be fuelled by greed, ego or, designed to de-stabilise economies. It may have been instigated by a rogue state, a criminal outfit, or a very clever, but not so intelligent teenager. Either way, we can expect more of the same and a lot worse in the future. Its too soon to have had the first autonomous vehicle murder but that could come. Tampering with power systems and ransoming Governments are all inevitable and will need to tackled. Businesses and livelihoods will be destroyed.
I think it's clear that had NHS systems been up to date the impact would have been minimal. I understand that some of these systems were running on Windows XP and even those running on later operating systems hadn't installed recent security updates. Obviously if the NHS had a limitless budget they could be employing endless IT staff and funding Microsoft to the extent that they demand. But that's not the case and even then, there is still a risk that future attacks would not be prevented.
Whilst as a business, we at Lowes Financial Management do not have a limitless budget, we have invested very heavily in ensuring that we have up to date systems and software. We complete regular back-ups, in various forms and do all that we can to reduce the risks. But we still face risks and much of the risk fundamentally revolves around those who mean us no harm.
Even with the best, most up to date systems, the most likely path to infection is via a staff member clicking on an infected link in an email. Many rogue emails are obvious; others are designed to catch you out by looking like they come from someone in your address book.
Businesses like ours do everything we can to screen incoming emails but our people are the last line of defence – they are trained to be sceptical about emails that are slightly out of the ordinary. They do not open attachments that aren’t expected and never download software to any computer connected to our network without having it approved by our IT staff.
Whilst I expect there will be more, similar incidents and some that will be much worse, all businesses must do all that they can to prevent an infection, whilst having contingencies in place to ensure that the impact of any such attack is minimal.
From an investment perspective, the criminals aside, recognise that there are many entities who will benefit significantly from such incidents and the threat of more. Whilst technology presents the risk, it also presents the solutions and any businesses that can capitalise on effective prevention or ‘cures’ could do extremely well. It’s all part of our changing world!
Amongst more traditional investments, Lowes manage portfolios that seek to benefit from exactly this sort of changing environment. Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss how we can help you – but if you’re emailing us, its perhaps best not to send an attachment in the first instance!