“Cyber: the next challenge” by Sven Bossu, CEO AIPC

Date: 21/02/2022


by Sven Bossu, CEO AIPC

The other side of the coin

Convention center managers have had their fair share of challenges over the last two years, including the implementation of digital solutions, which – in an ideal world – complement the face-to-face component of organized events. In both environments – analogue and digital – organizers, sponsors and participants need to feel 100% safe. Making this the case for the digital environment might prove to be the more challenging one.

During my twenty years working in the financial world, cyber security was always high on the agenda, and it seemed to become more important every year. There was/is of course a good reason for this: the cybercriminals’ top priority is simply to get paid at the end of an offensive operation and banks are perceived as wealthy. Therefore, criminals are incentivized to target them because of the potential of a high payout. To illustrate: according to a report of Micro Trend, financial institutions experienced a 1,318% year-on-year increase in ransomware attacks in the first half of 2021.

Other industries are also becoming increasingly the victim of cyber criminals. A good example are manufacturing firms, who can afford minimal downtime and would likely be pressured into paying the ransom to restart production. And we can of course all remember the case of Colonial Pipeline, a hack that took down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. and led to shortages across the East Coast and which was the result of a single compromised password.

The increased use of digital platforms in the world of organized events could make our industry an interesting target too. We are of course not as wealthy as the global financial institutions, but like manufacturing companies, we cannot afford downtime when an event is taking place or have event disrupted in different ways (just imagine “funny” content popping up in the middle of a life-streamed presentation). And because cyber criminals are opportunistic and go for low-hanging fruits, we should be prepared.

How do you do so? By making yourself a difficult target – if the effort is too high compared to the expected return, cyber criminals will not be interested. This is of course a daunting task, as cyber security is in constant flux. But there are a number of basic cyber hygiene best practices which should be followed (I remember the times when passwords were put on sticky notes and sticked to the screens – not that long ago) and it of course helps if a process is defined and in place on how to act if an attack should happen. Just like the processes convention centers have in place in case something happens in the non-digital world.

A research paper on hybrid events, published by IAPCO and AIPC in December 2021, also touched upon the topic. Gerd de Bruycker, EMEAR Marketing Director at CISCO, made it very clear: “In fact, what not a lot of people know is that CISCO is the world’s largest cyber security company. Our platform for hybrid events has front-to-end integrated security features of the highest order from registration through Webex software installation,” And that in-built, comprehensive, top-tier security is exactly what hybrid demands, for significant problems can’t just ruin the event but the relationship, and tarnish one’s name.” While a growing number of venues, organizers and tech companies who have their own platform do or appear to be paying significant attention to cyber security, standards for doing so are yet varied. “But that clients are demanding some level of it when they have 125K remote attendees who are also using an App is increasingly clear.”

Making this happen will require a significant effort, both when it comes to putting in place the right processes – which should include screening of new partners and personnel – and by implementing a cyber security culture throughout the organization. But this will become a crucial part of the new value proposal of convention centers: to be multi-channel, secure and intelligent platforms for organizers in need of bringing their global communities together.

The combination of face-to-face and digital will continue to be the dominating model in the times to come, allowing to serve audiences in different ways, using the best of both worlds. And in both worlds, offering the highest level of security and safety will be of key importance.

This story originally appeared in the January issue of the Meetings magazine in South Africa (750), p. 33. For original layout, visit: https://issuu.com/glen.t/docs/meetings_janfeb_2022

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