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Homegrown tech entrepreneur Matthew Wilson on the human side of cyber security

Matthew Wilson
Co-founder – Penten

Matthew Wilson is a cyber security specialist and co-founder of Penten. The Canberra company has grown to become a cyber security stalwart, winning the 2018 Telstra Australian Business of the Year and the 2018 Telstra Australian Medium & Making Waves Award.

Matthew Wilson
Co-founder – Penten

Matthew Wilson is a cyber security specialist and co-founder of Penten. The Canberra company has grown to become a cyber security stalwart, winning the 2018 Telstra Australian Business of the Year and the 2018 Telstra Australian Medium & Making Waves Award.

No business has been spared. Every single organisation has been subject to a cyber breach – including yours, whether you know it or not. It might not be a major event, but it could become one. It may be barely perceptible. And while a small leak may never become a torrent, it can be an avenue through which valuable information flows into the wrong hands.

Matthew Wilson

In the past year, at least 40 per cent of small-to-medium businesses will have been targeted by cyber attacks. These incursions have profound impacts, and with changes to the Privacy Act 2018, securing your business’s data is more critical than ever. Penten, 2018 Telstra Australian Business of the Year, is lauded for leading the way in cyber security in Australia, creating homegrown solutions in a rapidly changing digital world. Here, Penten co-founder Matthew Wilson outlines how today’s cyber security challenges aren’t solved only with technology, but through human behaviour and cultural change.

“Put simply, a cyber breach of some kind has 100% happened to your business.”

Matthew Wilson, Co-founder Penten

It might come as a surprise to read that claim.

There are those who are aware of having been breached – they’ve probably felt the effects.  And those who think they’re too small for attackers to bother with – unknowingly breached, they carry on.

The culture of cyber security 

It goes without saying: our lives are digital. Not all that long ago, digital technology was viewed as an appliance for home and work or a kind of entertainment that we’d turn to during a break from daily life.  But today our lives are lived on our devices.

Digital technology has been progressing at a rapid pace, while modern society has only tried to keep up. For generations, it’s been a cultural norm to have locks on our doors, alarm systems in homes. We also know not to leave valuables visible on the back seat of a car in a public place, even if the car is locked. These human behaviours are automatic – intrinsic. While physical security has been built into our culture, practising cyber security hasn’t had time to make the same imprint on our day-to-day lives.

The growing digitalisation of our lives has been awesome – it’s made our lives richer, more efficient, and connected us more deeply with the people around us – but it comes with responsibility. We now need to think harder about our own protection as we continue to publish information to the digital public arena.

“The only way to secure a computer is to turn it off, put it in a safe, and cover that safe in concrete. But that’s not particularly useful.”

Matthew Wilson, Co-founder Penten
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The human element 

Over the past few years, small businesses in Australia have been hammered by ransomware attacks. Participants in any industry using technology to enable their core business to function need to understand the risks they are taking. Those who don’t are more susceptible to damage from an attack.


“So very often we think about security as being a technology problem, but it's really not. It's a human problem.”

Matthew Wilson, Co-founder Penten

And this raises a fundamental, but overlooked, element in cyber security: training staff in what to look for and what not to look for. Just like locking your car doors has become a norm because the risks are apparent and the behaviour is well practised, in business it’s about creating a workplace culture that enables staff to understand the risks that the business faces.

You need to foster a cultural shift, and this requires slowly changing the way people think. One parallel that I like to draw is comparing cyber security to occupational health and safety. Avoiding workplace injury and physical risks to staff is ingrained in every business large and small, but that’s only come through awareness, education, and behavioural change.

Businesses know what to do when it comes to OHS, and cyber security should be thought about similarly. Having a policy to avoid clicking on particular links or visiting particular websites should be the same as signposting a water spill. 

“At the end of the day, cyber crime is about money. It's about stealing money.“

Matthew Wilson, Co-founder Penten

Collective effort     

We have the technology to solve many of these challenges. Right now it's just a human problem. But while responsibility falls at the feet of the individual, security is – in fact – a team sport. Your teammates are your colleagues, and you should all band together to work to a common goal.

The concept of ‘team’ can also be looked at as a geographical idea. In this sense, we can view the collective effort of an entire nation as a kind of teamwork. If we make Australia a harder target, the cyber criminals will focus on other geographical areas.

As the saying goes: ‘You don't need to outrun the lion. You just need to outrun the person next to you.’

From little things, big things grow…    

Small business doesn't need another reason not to succeed, and cyber threats present a bona fide risk to all business, not just the big end of town.

An initial approach to shoring things up would be to implement and adjust some elementary hygiene first, before developing knowledge among the people in your organisation. This is a really simple way to start protecting your organisation against risk.

And I know sometimes we think of these things as hard, because how much security is enough security?

The answer is: you need to be able to identify the specific risks within your organisation. And you will be able to if you sit down and think about the things that can hurt you. Don't think about it from a technology perspective, think about it from a business perspective. You will see very quickly the areas that need bolstering and what security protections you need to put in place. Human input is 99% of the game.

Worried about potential online attacks?

Telstra Business Cyber Security Services can help to protect your business.

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