Pivoting to a remote working model was a matter of survival during the midst of the pandemic

It forced rapid digital innovation and highlighted the importance of connectivity and collaboration for both business and economic stability.

However, as we shift to a more digital world, we also open ourselves up to a host of security problems. More digitisation means more online platforms, and therefore more choice for cybercriminals when it comes to finding weaknesses hidden within certain IT infrastructures. According to the Office of National Statistics, as many as four in ten businesses (39%) and a quarter of charities (26%) in the UK report experiencing cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months.

To even begin to tackle such a colossal problem governments must play an active role, leading from the top-down when it comes to cyber strategy, and make public commitments to investing in their nation’s digital infrastructure. This is absolutely essential for protecting and future-proofing business, and will not only support the transition to digital services, but also help businesses shift to remote working.

As governments around the world grapple with the shift towards a digital society and battle to reinstate trust after the turbulence of the pandemic, decisive leadership on cyber, the new frontier of criminal activity, will be a determining factor. Transparency in government on the collection and use of citizen data is a starting point, and a strong cyber strategy will lead businesses into a more secure future which is ultimately beneficial for the wider society.

Becoming a Digital Society 

When Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union just 30 years ago, the country embarked on its journey to becoming one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world. Now, 99% of our citizen services are done entirely online.

Every Estonian citizen is issued with a national ID card which is paired with their digital signature – this enables them to access their health records, education portals, pay taxes, access online banking and even vote online. Despite digital voting being a globally contentious issue, Estonia has a track record for sophisticated data privacy and protection procedures, and trust in the system is high enough for a third of Estonia’s citizens to opt into online voting.

What has made Estonia truly unique is our approach to personal data. The Estonian government runs a number of small databases that contain every citizen’s records.  Information about who accesses these records is available to every citizen, and should you see something that doesn’t seem right – say you recently had an appointment with your doctor, but you see another doctor has looked at your records – you can raise a case against it and the government will look into the matter for you.

Nobody has access to ALL your records but you. It’s a criminal offense to view records you don’t have permission to, which has instilled a huge amount of public trust in the system. Citizens are given the responsibility to also notify when they suspect their own data has suffered a data breach or privacy leak.

Building trust through practice

The main issue faced by governments around the world is mistrust. The real irony here is that people’s trust in technology has been steadily rising while their trust in traditional government is falling.

Citizens are willing to give personal information to their bank and tech giants like  Amazon and Google – who arguably know everything about you and make no promises not to misuse your data. Yet, people are far less forthcoming when it comes to sharing data with their government.

It can be said that Estonians today trust their system, but the trust wasn’t automatic; it had to be earned.

A model of where each citizen owns their own data and is proactively informed when government services want to access it gives full transparency and builds a relationship of trust. As governments around the world look to digitise, we are finding that this part of the process is crucial to success.

Mitigating security risks

In today’s digital age, we witness first hand the benefits of digitising services but we also do recognise the risks. As we move all of our data online we are creating a more appealing and profitable landscape for cyber criminals. There is no way to mitigate risk as it is inevitable – the crucial part is building robust cyber defences  and  being fully transparent with your citizens when a breach has occurred and what you have done to solve the issue.

Estonia’s current cyber security is bolstered by high-functioning e-government infrastructure, reliable digital identity, mandatory security baseline for all government authorities, and a central system for monitoring, reporting and resolving incidents. Vital service providers are obliged to assess and manage their ICT risks. Most importantly, there is a common understanding that cyber security can only be ensured through cooperation and that a joint contribution is required at all levels – state, private sector and individuals.

Now more than ever, governments must invest in their nation’s digital infrastructure if they want to progress. By easing the transition to online services for all businesses, being transparent in the use of citizen data, and creating close relationships with more digitally advanced nations, leaders all over the world can develop  a level of trust with their people and create a stronger, more resilient business ecosystem. Those governments who do not digitise will be missing out on a huge opportunity to boost their nation’s infrastructure, build trust and better transparency with their citizens and strengthen their economic growth potential.

About the Author

Lauri Haav is Managing Director at e-residency. Estonia is the first country to offer e-Residency, a government-issued digital ID available to anyone in the world. E-Residency offers the freedom to easily start and run a global business in a trusted EU environment. E-residents can establish their EU-company entirely online, sign documents with their e-Residency Digital ID Card easily, enjoy the hassle-free way of doing business, and run their business without borders.


Featured image: ©Tostphoto