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The practice of cybersecurity takes place within a complex digital environment that may be conceptualized from a number of different perspectives. Much of the literature focuses on the disciplines of engineering, technology, and computer science with lesser emphasis on law, policy development and sociology. Although cybersecurity has recently been approached from various disciplinary and conceptual angles, the predominantly scientific lens through which it is examined leads it to be frequently seen and wrongly classed as a purely technical field. The fact that it has developed as a subfield of computer engineering and information technology serves to perpetuate this notion further. Despite the more intricate technical aspects, however, the consequences of cybersecurity incidents extend beyond the particular actors involved, as several other parties are likely affected. Such was the case with Target in 2013, when the United States’ second-largest department store suffered a data breach that compromised the credit information of 70 million customers, resulting in substantial economic damage. Given the close interconnection between technology, people, organizations and society at large, some academics have expressed the necessity to facilitate collaborations from different disciplines to achieve sustainable and socially equitable countermeasures against these types of vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, the lack of consensus on any broad conceptual framework that rationalizes and integrates different understandings of the wide range of cybersecurity issues in society is majorly problematic. Not only does this obstacle impede the development of cooperative solutions among key targets such as governments and financial institutions, but it also reinforces the predominantly technical view of cybersecurity by separating disciplines that should be acting in concert to resolve the threats associated with it.
The multidimensional nature of cybersecurity has also rendered it difficult to establish a unifying definition since privacy and security incidents could mean different things to different people at different points in time. In the case of individuals, it could relate to a sense of protection of personal data and privacy. For businesses, it could mean protecting access to critical business functions and sensitive client data to maintain confidence in the brand and the ability to stay in business. For states, cybersecurity could include the protection of its citizens, critical infrastructure and military computer systems from attacks or violations of national sovereignty. Since its conceptualization involves a high degree of subjectivity, due consideration must be given to the individual or entity doing the defining. Public Safety Canada, for example, defines cybersecurity as “the body of technologies, processes, practices and response and mitigation measures designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access so as to ensure confidentiality, integrity and availability” (2018). The McKinsey Global Institute, by contrast, defines it as “the protection of valuable intellectual property and business information in digital form against theft and misuse” (2011).
These definitions exemplify how entities attempt to define cybersecurity in a manner that is compatible with their own interests and objectives. Furthermore, the definitions above may provide a useful starting point but leave little room to support a multidisciplinary approach that can complement the predominantly technical perspective within the cybersecurity discourse.
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