There are currently few things that worry CEOs worldwide as much as geopolitics. Cybersecurity is undoubtedly one of them. But what happens when you combine geopolitical conflicts and cyber threats?

Geopolitical cyber threats, that’s what.

This lethal combination threatens to disrupt economies, destabilize governments, and shatter global stability. That’s why it must be met with an ironclad cybersecurity strategy.

But what does that strategy entail?

That’s for Tom Vazdar and Venicia Solomons to answer. Tom is the chair of the Master’s Degree in Enterprise Cybersecurity program at the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT). Venicia is a seasoned cybersecurity architect and advocate who has rightfully earned the nickname “the Cyber Queen.”

Here’s what these two esteemed cyber professionals have to say about geopolitical cyber threats in their highly informative master class titled “Cyber Threat Landscape 2024: Navigating New Risks.”

What Are Geopolitical Cyber Threats?

Geopolitical threats refer to cyberattacks (or campaigns) driven by political motives. These attacks are often conducted by state-sponsored actors and have a specific strategic goal in mind.

For instance, Iran-backed hackers have recently been targeting U.S. water systems, aiming to disrupt Israeli-made equipment globally. This example also perfectly illustrates the targets of geopolitical cyberattacks – critical infrastructure, government systems, military networks, and other relevant entities.

But don’t jump to conclusions – the private sector isn’t immune to such attacks.

Cybercriminals have also targeted private companies to steal intellectual property, disrupt operations, or extort money. However, what differentiates these attacks from other cyberattacks is the motivation behind them.

Whether it’s through espionage, sabotage, or disinformation, geopolitical cyber threats always aim to achieve a political or strategic advantage for the attacker.

How Do State-Sponsored Cyber Threats Differ From Other Cyberattacks?

In their master class, Tom and Venicia specifically focus on state-sponsored cyber threats, even though they aren’t the only type of geopolitical cyber threats. Why? Because they’re the most advanced and sophisticated cyber threats.

As Venicia puts it, state-sponsored cyberattacks involve “specialist hacking techniques,” “stealthy behavior,” and “stealthy execution.” That’s why the consequences of these attacks are often only seen after significant damage has been done.

This leads us to another distinctive characteristic of state-sponsored cyberattacks – they typically involve long-term execution.

You see, other forms of cyberattacks usually want to reach their goal as soon as possible. For instance, a ransomware attack will infiltrate your system, and the hacker will ask for ransom straight away.

A state-sponsored cyberattack, on the other hand, usually plays the long game. That’s why they’re considered an advanced persistent threat (APT). Remaining undetected for a long time allows these threats to collect lots of critical data and perform long-term espionage.

Tom adds that the goal of these cyberattacks is another important distinction. As mentioned, they usually have a strategic goal in mind. “Regular” cyber threats, in contrast, typically only aim for financial profit.

Why Is Geopolitical Cybersecurity Important?

For the most part, traditional warfare was limited to three battlefields – the land, the air, and the sea. However, as Tom points out, two vital battlefields have joined the fray – space and cyberspace.

Sure, threats in cyberspace aren’t overtly visible like those on land, air, or sea. However, they can be just as devastating, if not more so – especially if they’re geopolitical cyber threats.

Here’s how Tom and Venicia break down the importance of geopolitical cybersecurity.

Protecting Against Espionage

As mentioned, espionage is one of the leading types of geopolitical cyberattacks. Since espionage aims to collect as much valuable information as possible, these attacks are typically highly refined, which allows them to remain undiscovered for months on end.

Venicia points out that the recent geopolitical tensions have led to increased cyber espionage. That’s what makes solid geopolitical cybersecurity more important than ever. Let one intruder into your network, and you’re essentially giving away all your classified information (past, present, and future).

Avoiding Manipulation

2024 is an election year. This means that “influence operations, disinformation operations, [and] deep fake operations” will run more rampant than ever, as Tom warns. Ultimately, these operations aim to shape public opinion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. These outcomes are never desirable, let alone during such a crucial time.

That’s where cybersecurity comes into play.

These measures help secure digital platforms, detect (and remove) false information, and (in this specific scenario) safeguard electoral systems.

Protecting the Economy

As mentioned, geopolitical cyberattacks aren’t typically done for financial gain. However, they can still cause massive financial losses. How? By targeting “public organizations and private entities that make a large contribution to a country’s economy,” as Venicia explains.

And a world that’s still reeling from the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the global economy can’t possibly handle another major disruption. That’s why any similar threat should never be taken lightly.

How to Combat Geopolitical Cyber Threats

Now that you know why geopolitical cyber threats must be combatted, let’s discuss how this can be done.

Keep All Aspects in Mind

There are numerous factors that go into protecting against geopolitical cyber threats. But for this protection to actually work, all these factors must be considered when devising a defense strategy.

For starters, this means protecting all critical infrastructure sectors. Tom lists just some of them –financial services, healthcare and public health, and transportation systems. However, one thing applies to all critical infrastructure sectors – they aren’t “independent islands,” as Tom puts it.

They’re all part of a larger ecosystem.

Each sector can only be protected if there’s a holistic approach to cybersecurity, one that considers interdependencies between sectors and the potential cascading effects of cyber disruptions. This way, in case of a cyberattack, every sector can provide support and respond effectively to minimize the impact.

Foster Collaboration

The collaborative approach shouldn’t only apply to critical infrastructure sectors. All stakeholders, including government agencies, cybersecurity experts, and the private sector, must work together to address geopolitical threats effectively.

This collaboration can take many forms.

However, Tom highlights the three most important ones on the global level – sharing intelligence, developing international norms and agreements, and establishing cybersecurity alliances.

Our experts list some of the most useful alliances and resources in this regard:

  • The No More Ransom Project helps organizations combat ransomware attacks by providing decryption keys, thus returning their vital information.
  • Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) worldwide allow for sharing cyber threat intelligence among industry partners to improve defenses collectively.
  • The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime sets out international standards for combating cybercrime, promoting cooperation among countries to tackle cyber threats effectively.

Focus on Critical Infrastructure

By now, one thing’s clear – protecting critical infrastructure against geopolitical cyber threats is paramount.

According to Tom, collaboration plays a key role here as well. In his words, “The only way to protect [critical infrastructure] is that collaborative effort between government and the private sector because they cannot go without each other; they have to work together.”

Implement a Robust Cybersecurity Framework

A comprehensive and collaborative approach to combating geopolitical threats is just the preamble. The implementation of a robust cybersecurity framework is where the actual protection starts. Of course, these systems should be based on the intelligence collected through collaboration and education.

However, the system itself is just as important. After all, protecting critical infrastructure and other elements of similar importance requires more than just traditional anti-virus software!

According to Tom, a comprehensive cybersecurity framework will comprise four elements – threat detection, response tools, regular security assessments, and training. The specifics will vary by organization, and every relevant employee should be familiar with them.

Tom also emphasizes the importance of adopting a multi-layer approach to cybersecurity defenses. This way, even if one layer is breached, others will provide protection and prevent a total collapse of the system.

Stay Vigilant

Organizations should always be on the lookout for an uptick in suspicious activities, especially during times of geopolitical conflicts. This vigilance includes monitoring network traffic for anomalies, conducting regular security audits, and staying on top of the latest cyber threats and—let’s face it—the latest geopolitical conflicts.

Train Your Employees

The importance of thorough cybersecurity education can’t be understated. After all, employees are usually the first line of defense against cyber threats. So, they should be trained to handle the information system properly within the organization. They should know what to do and what not to do before, during, and after a geopolitical cyberattack.

However, there’s another type of employee crucial for the strength of cybersecurity within an organization – cybersecurity professionals themselves.

These individuals must be on top of their game at all times. One way to ensure this is to only hire professionals with ample experience and education. For instance, completing a renowned Master’s program like OPIT’s Enterprise Cybersecurity should be a huge green flag for any employer. It signals a strong commitment to cybersecurity excellence and a deep understanding of the latest trends and techniques in the field.

Invest in the education and professional development of your employees, and you stand a chance against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, geopolitical and beyond.

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Il Sole 24 Ore: 100 thousand IT professionals missing
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
May 14, 2024 6 min read

Written on April 24th 2024

Source here: Il Sole 24 Ore (full article in Italian)

Open Institute of Technology: 100 thousand IT professionals missing

Eurostat data processed and disseminated by OPIT. Stem disciplines: the share of graduates in Italy between the ages of 20 and 29 is 18.3%, compared to the European 21.9%

Today, only 29% of young Italians between 25 and 34 have a degree. Not only that: compared to other European countries, the comparison is unequal given that the average in the Old Continent is 46%, bringing Italy to the penultimate place in this ranking, ahead only of Romania. The gap is evident even if the comparison is limited to STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) where the share of graduates in Italy between the ages of 20 and 29 is 18.3%, compared to the European 21.9%, with peaks of virtuosity which in the case of France that reaches 29.2%. Added to this is the continuing problem of the mismatch between job supply and demand, so much so that 62.8% of companies struggle to find professionals in the technological and IT fields.

The data

The Eurostat data was processed and disseminated by OPIT – Open Institute of Technology. an academic institution accredited at European level, active in the university level education market with online Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the technological and digital fields. We are therefore witnessing a phenomenon with worrying implications on the future of the job market in Italy and on the potential loss of competitiveness of our companies at a global level, especially if inserted in a context in which the macroeconomic scenario in the coming years will undergo a profound discontinuity linked to the arrival of “exponential” technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics, but also to the growing threats related to cybersecurity.

Requirements and updates

According to European House Ambrosetti, over 2,000,000 professionals will have to update their skills in the Digital and IT area by 2026, also to take advantage of the current 100,000 vacant IT positions, as estimated by Frank Recruitment Group. But not only that: the Italian context, which is unfavorable for providing the job market with graduates and skills, also has its roots in the chronic birth rate that characterizes our country: according to ISTAT data, in recent years the number of newborns has fallen by 28%, bringing Italy’s birth rate to 1.24, among the lowest in Europe, where the average is 1.46.

Profumo: “Structural deficiency”

“The chronic problem of the absence of IT professionals is structural and of a dual nature: on one hand the number of newborns – therefore, potential “professionals of the future” – is constantly decreasing; on the other hand, the percentage of young people who acquires degrees are firmly among the lowest in Europe”, declared Francesco Profumo, former Minister of Education and rector of OPIT – Open Institute of Technology. “The reasons are varied: from the cost of education (especially if undertaken off-site), to a university offering that is poorly aligned with changes in society, to a lack of awareness and orientation towards STEM subjects, which guarantee the highest employment rates. Change necessarily involves strong investments in the university system (and, in general, in the education system) at the level of the country, starting from the awareness that a functioning education system is the main driver of growth and development in the medium to long term. It is a debated and discussed topic on which, however, a clear and ambitious position is never taken.”

Stagnant context and educational offer

In this stagnant context, the educational offer that comes from online universities increasingly meets the needs of flexibility, quality and cost of recently graduated students, university students looking for specialization and workers interested in updating themselves with innovative skills. According to data from the Ministry of University and Research, enrollments in accredited online universities in Italy have grown by over 141 thousand units in ten years (since 2011), equal to 293.9%. Added to these are the academic institutions accredited at European level, such as OPIT, whose educational offering is overall capable of opening the doors to hundreds of thousands of students, with affordable costs and extremely innovative and updated degree paths.

Analyzing the figures

An analysis of Eurostat statistics relating to the year 2021 highlights that 27% of Europeans aged between 16 and 74 have attended an entirely digital course. The highest share is recorded in Ireland (46%), Finland and Sweden (45%) and the Netherlands (44%). The lowest in Romania (10%), Bulgaria (12%) and Croatia (18%). Italy is at 20%. “With OPIT” – adds Riccardo Ocleppo, founder and director – “we have created a new model of online academic institution, oriented towards new technologies, with innovative programs, a strong practical focus, and an international approach, with professors and students from 38 countries around the world, and teaching in English. We intend to train Italian students not only on current and updated skills, but to prepare them for an increasingly dynamic and global job market. Our young people must be able to face the challenges of the future like those who study at Stanford or Oxford: with solid skills, but also with relational and attitudinal skills that lead them to create global companies and startups or work in multinationals like their international colleagues. The increasing online teaching offer, if well structured and with quality, represents an incredible form of democratization of education, making it accessible at low costs and with methods that adapt to the flexibility needs of many working students.”

Point of reference

With two degrees already starting in September 2023 – a three-year degree (BSc) in Modern Computer Science and a specialization (MSc) in Applied Data Science & AI – and 4 starting in September 2024: a three-year degree (BSc) in Digital Business, and the specializations (MSc) in Enterprise Cybersecurity, Applied Digital Business and Responsible Artificial Intelligence (AI), OPIT is an academic institution of reference for those who intend to respond to the demands of a job market increasingly oriented towards the field of artificial intelligence. Added to this are a high-profile international teaching staff and an exclusively online educational offer focused on the technological and digital fields.

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Times of India: The 600,000 IT job shortage in India and how to solve it
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
May 2, 2024 3 min read

Written on April 25th 2024

Source here: Times of India 

The job market has never been a straightforward path. Ask anyone who has ever looked for a job, certainly within the last decade, and they can tell you as much. But with the rapid development of AI and machine learning, concerns are growing for people about their career options, with a report from Randstad finding that 7 in 10 people in India are concerned about their job being eliminated by AI.

 Employers have their own share of concerns. According to The World Economic Forum, 97 million new AI-related jobs will be created by 2025 and the share of jobs requiring AI skills will increase by 58%. The IT industry in India is experiencing a tremendous surge in demand for skilled professionals on disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, cybersecurity and, according to Nasscom, this is leading to a shortage of 600,000 profiles.

 So how do we fill those gaps? Can we democratize access to top-tier higher education in technology?

These are the questions that Riccardo Ocleppo, the engineer who founded a hugely successful ed-tech platform connecting international students with global Universities, Docsity, asked himself for years. Until he took action and launched the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), together with the Former Minister of Education of Italy, Prof. Francesco Profumo, to help people take control of their future careers.

OPIT offers BSc and MSc degrees in Computer Science, AI, Data Science, Cybersecurity, and Digital Business, attracting students from over 38 countries worldwide. Through innovative learning experiences and affordable tuition fees starting at €4,050 per year, OPIT empowers students to pursue their educational goals without the financial and personal burden of relocating.

The curriculum, delivered through a mix of live and pre-recorded lectures, equips students with the latest technology skills, as well as business and strategic acumen necessary for careers in their chosen fields. Moreover, OPIT’s EU-accredited degrees enable graduates to pursue employment opportunities in Europe, with recognition by WES facilitating transferability to the US and Canada.

OPIT’s commitment to student success extends beyond academics, with a full-fledged career services department led by Mike McCulloch. Remote students benefit from OPIT’s “digital campus,” fostering connections through vibrant discussion forums, online events, and networking opportunities with leading experts and professors.

Faculty at OPIT, hailing from prestigious institutions and industry giants like Amazon and Microsoft, bring a wealth of academic and practical experience to the table. With a hands-on, practical teaching approach, OPIT prepares students for the dynamic challenges of the modern job market.

In conclusion, OPIT stands as a beacon of hope for individuals seeking to future-proof their careers in technology. By democratizing access to high-quality education and fostering a global learning community, OPIT empowers students to seize control of their futures and thrive in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

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