Business and Academia Must Bridge the Cybersecurity Gap – It’s a Matter of National Security

Business and Academia Must Bridge the Cybersecurity Gap – It’s a Matter of National Security
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

It’s vital for today’s business community to recognize cybersecurity as not simply a national security issue but also an economic and business-survival issue. This will require vision from corporate America’s top leadership. Many firms today lack the technical resources, the talent, and sometimes the will to combat emerging cyber threats. 

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A long-term solution requires help from academia to develop future business leaders with broad technical acumen and the leadership and communication skills to handle a cyber crisis. Our nation’s MBA programs should incorporate cybersecurity into their core curriculums.   

Consider how the scale to which this problem has grown. In the past month, federal prosecutors indicted six Russian hackers for cyberattacks against a range of targets, from worldwide businesses and critical infrastructure to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics to democratic elections in multiple countries. The losses for the businesses involved are estimated at nearly $1 billion. Pharmaceutical giant Merck alone reported losses at $870 million, which highlights a growing concern for other global firms.

According to the Heritage Foundation, by 2021, cybercrime could cost the global economy more than $6 trillion annually, up from $3 trillion in 2015. As cyber-crime’s threat profile continues to rise, so do the stakes. For corporations, everything from reputations and revenue streams to shareholder accountability could hang in the balance.

More importantly, the vital strategic interests of the United States are at play, too. Cyber-enabled economic warfare is being waged at an unprecedented scale, threatening America’s global influence and national security. Beijing and Moscow’s efforts to copy and steal American intellectual property and technology are well documented. They will surely grow in scale and scope – requiring a reciprocal response from the United States. 

For now, though, cybersecurity experts with technical knowledge are in short supply in the U.S. A skills gap also exists at the management level. Today, many business executives lack the know-how to formulate strategies that would protect a company’s digital infrastructure, combat cyberattacks, and effectively communicate with technology teams. These skills, vital in the current business environment, are not easy to acquire quickly. 

America’s future business leaders will need to address the cyber threat as a multifaceted problem – and this is where academia comes in. It is incumbent upon leading MBA programs to incorporate courses in cybersecurity into their core curriculums. Yet currently, none of the 2021 U.S. News and World Report Top 10 MBA programs maintain a core curriculum that includes a course devoted to cybersecurity. Only a few in the Top 20 offer study tracks with a technology focus.

Academia is well-positioned to raise awareness and educate future cadres of business leaders to recognize the economic impact of cybercrime. Top-tier MBA programs such as the elite M7 – HBS, Stanford GSB, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Booth, and Columbia – have the name recognition and clout to influence other programs to adapt their core curriculums. But other U.S. business schools shouldn’t wait for their lead: they should develop, as part of their core curriculums, cyber-security courses that provide not only a broad understanding of the technology but also of the business context.

Cyber-crime practicum exercises, conducted over multiple class sessions, could simulate a real-world cyber-attack, giving students experience in leading tech-centric teams and developing strategic communications in containing public and/or shareholder fallout.

Finally, business schools should partner with other university departments such as Engineering, Computer Science, Public Policy, and Global Affairs to provide students the necessary background and context for how and why cyber-crime continues to proliferate throughout the global economy. In sum, these steps and others will arm our future business leaders with the knowledge and understanding to meet cyber challenges head on – not only for the sake of their shareholders but also for the vital interests of our nation.

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