Unique Threat Landscape of Digital Divide

Rural areas worldwide are disconnected in a landscape that nearly requires the internet to work or socially interact. But eventually, the entire planet will have equal, high-speed internet access. Neglecting the digital divide and broadband gap will cause cybersecurity concerns for communities entering the digital era. Regions new to the internet are more vulnerable.

Therefore, professionals are concerned about a new oversight — the cybersecurity gap.

If developed countries already have advanced cybersecurity capabilities, why aren’t they translating during installation in areas resting in the digital divide?

What Causes the Disconnect?

Broadband access became a focal political issue during the COVID-19 pandemic when students attended virtual classrooms and the workforce renovated homes to fit new offices. Everyone must learn and work, and during this critical event, the lack of an internet connection could’ve cost households their livelihoods.

Urbanization is sweeping the world, but even more-developed nations still contain thousands of miles of rural towns. The gap is closing slowly. In 2021, there were three billion without internet. In 2022, that number went down to 2.7 billion, showing the efforts of governments and organizations to make access more commonplace.

Areas without internet access have a few prerequisites missing from comprehensive digital safety. Education is the primary missing link. Consider Indigenous communities and how introducing the internet to these neighborhoods could invite distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks loaded with ransomware. The community has little idea of how to protect themselves because they don’t have cybersecurity hygiene awareness.

The unavailable education compounds when it comes to the workforce. Not only would end users be unfamiliar with digital precautions, few or no trained professionals would be available to oversee these communities as they grow with connectivity. There are already overwhelming job vacancies for cybersecurity analysts in areas that have had access for years — the disparity would be starker in recently connected communities.

What Are the Most Prominent Threats?

There are trends in the types of cyber threats hitting newly connected regions. Many manifest as DDoS attacks, but they’re most impactful when targeting critical infrastructure.

Everything from water treatment to utility providers is at risk and developing communities feel the impacts of these attacks more greatly when they should revel in their newfound connectivity. These digital-physical attacks could stop towns from having clean drinking water or bank access. Cybersecurity must anticipate service disruptions from DDoS-style attacks and find ways to make structures more resilient.

Ransomware is another severe threat, primarily if it attacks cities. Citizen data is precious for threat actors, making hospitals, banks and city offices high-value targets. When many of these communities feel like paying the ransom is the only option, it’s an obvious choice for cybercriminals. Many rural areas don’t have backup schedules or cloud infrastructure that could house essential data out of the way of hackers.

Trends like this reveal how much funding should encompass defense tools and detection strategies. Firewalls and antivirus software are robust, but they only hold up if programs and professionals are overseeing those and sitting prepared to fight a threat if it happens. Hackers know these extended resources are minimal within the digital divide, so they can focus on finding backdoors.

Social engineering is a deceptively common threat, especially when cybercriminals exploit vulnerable, poorer communities without much internet access. Threat actors can manipulate, threaten, or bribe people within organizations or towns to help them execute an attack they would otherwise not perform. These individuals might be part of a local business or within one of the most targeted sectors.

How Can People Mitigate Risk?

The most significant threat is the need for more attention to policy making. Most policies focus on infrastructure, which is essential for expanding digital equity. However, physical infrastructure doesn’t inherently encompass cybersecurity infrastructure. Adjusting policies to cover funding for the big picture is ideal, especially when critical infrastructure has been a high-profile target for cybercriminals in recent years. It includes everything from city wiring to the individual machines on work desks.

The tech must be modern. Though because funding may want to scrimp on the latest devices to afford higher quantities, the good intentions will backfire. Legacy technologies have more vulnerabilities than updated versions, meaning funding should account for purchasing more recent models for added safety. This includes mobile technologies, which could empower communities in emergencies by using safe communications tools instead of other devices hackers could exploit.

Research is minimal on how cybersecurity wellness and socioeconomic status relate. Generally, communities in the digital divide are marginalized populations or less-wealthy communities. The most significant barrier between cybersecurity and the digital divide might be the awareness gap in how much they synergize. Researchers could see how many more cyberattacks these communities face after receiving connectivity. How much does it impact the community as a whole? How fast does it take them to recover?

Overcoming risk involves eliminating generational and ableist stereotypes. Younger generations are more technologically savvy, but the assumption needs revising to create balanced learning resources. It encourages discriminatory victimization, especially for older individuals, those with chronic conditions and ethnic minorities in digital spaces educational access could remedy. More nuanced understandings of the threat landscape could surface if attention diverted from these mindset limitations.

Continuing education will be the best cure for cyber threats in these areas. Providing a single class or textbook on best practices is insufficient, as recommendations constantly change as new threats surface. Great places to start include:

  • Introductory definitions and explanations of basic cyber threats.
  • Password best practices like multi-factor authentication.
  • Who to report to in the event of a breach.
  • Elaboration on data privacy.
  • Telltale signs of a cybersecurity threat, such as strange-looking links or random popups.

Closing the Digital Divide and Cybersecurity Gap

Providing broadband access to the planet is essential for equity and sustainable development. It’s not enough to hook communities up to the internet — cybersecurity must come alongside it. Rallying for more comprehensive funding could empower these communities to traverse online landscapes without feeling perpetually targeted by preventable cyber threats.

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Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel

Ellie Gabel is a writer and associate editor for Revolutionized. She primarily covers innovations in the tech and computing space for an audience of industry professionals, though she got her start as a science writer.

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