Unlocking Emerging Market’s Potential with Cybersecurity

By: Kartik Shahani, Managing Director, RSA – India & SAARC

Digital economy is driven ripe with potential in the emerging nations especially Asian Countries’ due to the increasing connectivity coupled with rapid adoption of advanced technology. People and businesses have better access to information across borders and governments are beginning to build foundations to support the ecosystem of innovative startups.

Encompassing economies at vastly different stages of development but sharing immense growth potential, it is easy to see why businesses foresee a myriad of business opportunities there. Thailand sets an example of rapid economic growth; it has managed to boost itself to an “upper-middle income economy” from a low-income country back in the 80s. Myanmar, despite being one of the poorest countries in the region, has an economy that is steadily growing with an expected GDP growth of 8.4% in 2016, higher than Singapore’s, a more developed country, at 2.0%. One of the fastest growing emerging economy like India has entrusted technology to drive growth in the country by taking initiatives like Digital India, Start-up India, Smart Cities, Make in India and many more.

Connecting and Expanding Businesses

Today, internet access in Asia Pacific is expected to grow at a steady rate of 7 percent from now through to 2019, with internet user growth in the region largely attributed to the widespread adoption of smartphones in emerging markets. In India, the internet users have gone up steadily in the past few years and this year India has the second largest online market worldwide despite the large untapped potential. Smartphone adoption is accelerating at a staggering pace, expected to nearly double from 1bn unique users in 2014 to 2 bn users in 2019. In India the active smartphone user base is over 220 mn making it the second-biggest smartphone market in the world. This combination is changing how businesses’ strategies and goals in engaging the end consumer are shifting.

Doing business online reduces transaction costs and easily overcomes distance constraints, reducing barriers to new market entry while allowing organizations to reach a broader market. This brings endless network opportunities and access to a wider customer base as organizations are able to respond faster with better connectivity in a cost efficient manner.

On top of that, businesses can reach a more targeted customer base and forego the need of having to spend on travel – all leading up to cost-efficiency. A simple analogy is the e-commerce sector. Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce giant has today successfully penetrated into the complex interiors of the Indian market and many others are following the suit. Exponential growth opportunities are available to retailers as internet becomes more accessible and more end users go online, if they start off the right foot.

Know the risk before diving

Huge opportunities and attractive business returns are available to organizations looking to expand into emerging countries like India. As these countries’ economies open up, domestic and international businesses should look into expanding into these markets and reach more audience. Yet, organizations should also be aware that emerging markets carry more risk than the average investment, including foreign exchange rate risks, inadequate corporate governance system in some countries, and political instability, which is why putting the right cybersecurity measures in place has to be core in the business strategy.

With the population becoming more digitally-savvy and businesses more connected, more data is being stored and exchanged in the virtual realm. Therein lies the risk of cyber-threats as an important gating factor to success. The recent SWIFT cyber-heist saw US$81mn loss of funds across countries including Vietnam and Bangladesh, illustrating the need for strong and effective cybersecurity in both personal and business sectors. Cybersecurity risks entail much more than just data breaches and privacy issues; they also include intellectual property theft, cyber extortion, and the chain effects of business interruptions and reputational damage.

Designing your Business’ Cyber-Defense Blueprint
1. Research: In a new environment, organizations need to especially look out for existing governance and regulations as well as the business drivers unique to each market. Cybersecurity readiness starts with having a comprehensive understanding of both internal and external vulnerabilities that can affect any business, such as how hackers can gain unwarranted entry including their different methods and motives. An effective cybersecurity strategy cannot work in isolation. Improve public-private-partnership and know the governance and regulatory bodies that you can seek help or guidance from such as Indonesia’s Cyber Security Agency (BCN).

2. Identify: Next, identifying the different types of cyber fraud schemes and common threats – from phishing and spoofing scams, social engineering, malware, systems hacking, pharming, to everything in between – is key. This will provide an indication of the security maturity in the country.

3. Inform and Educate: Then, businesses should develop a security policy that is ingrained into their corporate culture. Keeping employees regularly informed of cybersecurity risks is one way to fortify the overall IT security strategy, as some security breaches can be due to ‘human error’ such as employees’ oversight. The policy must seep through every process and the decision of the business. Organizations should also educate employees about the warning signs, safe practices, and responses to a suspected takeover.

4. Verify: Businesses should verify financial requests and confirm details preferably face-to-face or via the phone, instead of relying on emails to converse through any financial transaction. They should also use a two-step verification process to ensure tighter security in approving outgoing funds. This will help protect them from any information leaks, hacks or loss.

5. Protect: Cybersecurity has always been a technological battle between organizations and threat actors, Businesses should always ensure they have the necessary and most updated technology, processes and procedures to secure and control access to critical information before taking the plunge. In addition, organizations should bridge the gap between digital and physical cybersecurity controls (access, biometric, etc.) that would streamline security operations while strengthening the overall defense.

6. Detect & Automate: Leverage analytics and the corresponding wealth of threat intelligence from internal and external sources to drive programmed responses, both reactive and proactive, in the face of actual or threatened attacks.

7. Respond & Counter: Last but not least, business should have an automated incident response plan to restore affected systems and services to enable business operations to return to normal state. As cybercrime escalates and protection and preparedness becomes vital for every organization, working together will help deal with any arising threats.

As mobile adoption is seeing a significant growth in emerging countries with better internet connectivity, organizations can apply the above considerations for the next phase of business expansion.

Businesses have to ensure that their data is secure and impenetrable. With the right measures and practices to tackle cybersecurity challenges and cover the important bases, organizations can then confidently take the first step into tapping these markets. As the adage goes, a good start is half the battle won.

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