We live in a digital world in which our happiness, health, and even our lives can depend on the performance of technology. From medical equipment to cars, and home security systems to smartphones, computerized equipment plays a greater role in the human experience with each passing year.

Yet the increased convenience and benefits of the digital age come at a cost. New threats — many of which were the domain of science fiction movies just a decade ago— have become real-world problems on a massive scale, with new dangers arising on a regular basis. Ten years ago, the notion that a foreign power could potentially alter the results of an American presidential election through hacking and the spreading of misinformation would have sounded absurd. But in 2018, many have come to realize that the potential for such an attack on democracy is very real, and perhaps a historical fact. Not long ago, artificial intelligence was the stuff of fictional movies — but it is now a technology utilized by cyber attackers and defenders alike.

Our world is rapidly transforming from an industrial economy to a digital society, in which cyberattacks have emerged as a major threat to businesses, individuals, and governments alike. In fact, cybersecurity challenges us in ways that no threat has done before.

Nearly all people, for example, outsource a great deal of their physical security to others. We pay taxes to fund fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and intelligence services— and while we may utilize dedicated volunteers for local patrols, we are not expected to assume personal responsibility to deliver the security provided by the organizations that we help fund.

Cybersecurity, however, cannot be outsourced.    We cannot rely on the government to protect our personal computers, devices, or data — indeed it is difficult to imagine how an outside party could adequately shield us against hacking and social engineering attacks, cryptocurrency theft, or hijacked online banking sessions. The global diffusion of data and its systems continue to blur the borders of sovereign states. Who holds responsibility for the security of data that belongs to a Canadian company, regarding the affairs of a French citizen that is stored on a computer in Australia, being served to a user in Cameroon? Understanding what we must protect, how we must protect it, and who must be the protector is no simple matter, especially when it comes to information stored in the cloud.

To be cyber-secure, therefore, we — the people, businesses, and organizations of the developed world — must be vigilant. We must comprehend the threats as best we can and explore the optimal practices for situations in which the security of our data is at risk. We must understand roles and responsibilities for the protection of information, from the personal level to the national level. Perhaps most importantly, we must also know what we do not know— and understand who to call when situations we could never have imagined arise.

Cyberattacks will continue to occur on a frequent basis — such is the nature of the  digital age. However, by learning to distinguish good advice from bad, listening to experts, and protecting ourselves from cybersecurity fatigue, we can become more adept to the changes of technology as they develop. While forthcoming threats may seem ominous, one thing is certain: understanding and working in tandem with cybersecurity professionals is key to North America’s success in the 21st century.