Cybersecurity Expert Ash Mozano on the Tech Backlash of 2017

There may be nothing more subjective than trying to gauge public attitudes about technology. Yet a series of highly publicized events in 2017—from the massive exposure of personal data in the Equifax breach to the use of Twitter and Facebook to manipulate voters in the U.S. Presidential election—has prompted some to question the utopian promise of innovation, especially when it comes to social media and cybersecurity.

In a bid to put things in perspective at year’s end, Xconomy reached out to Ash Mozano, chief technology officer at Circadence, a Boulder, CO-based specialist in cybersecurity training and technology. At Circadence, Mozano leads the development of artificial intelligence technologies in security and malware detection. He previously worked for defense contractors, and served as a lead architect and project manager in cybersecurity science and technology for the U.S. Navy. He holds a law degree and multiple degrees in business and computer science.

Here’s an edited transcript of our exchange:

Xconomy: Did the public conversation about tech turn more critical this year?

Ash Mozano: There certainly has been an erosion in public trust when it comes to the protection of the consumer’s personal data, and Equifax’s conduct was one of the main attributors. But 2017 was rife with lesser known, but equally impactful events that cast doubts on public and private entities’ abilities and/or willingness to protect their consumers and users.

The public conversation is certainly becoming more frequent and louder, but most people are still learning the nuances of cyberspace, and the conversation is not as critical or informed as it will be in the near future.

Part of the explanation for the lack of a more widespread criticism could be the erosion of trust due to a dilution of the traditional mass media’s influence.

X: Which attitudes in particular have changed, and in what ways?

AM: Perhaps the biggest shift is in trusting the news outlets that would normally be relied upon to convey critical information. I call this the erosion of erosion in trust: The pervasiveness of terms such as “fake news” to discredit various major news outfits has in many cases undermined the credence generally granted to news outlets.  When the same outlets try to make the public aware of cybersecurity risks, their message is equally deemed non-authoritative and in some cases, simply ignored (or for certain segments of the population, they even create a backlash that results in contrarian behavior).

X:  Does this change in attitudes show up in ways that could materially affect the tech industry?

AM: Yes. The tech industry must (and in some ways, is) re-inventing itself to make security a higher priority, and as part of the initial architectural and system design stages, as opposed to security being the baked-on afterthought. Today’s IoT [Internet of Things] manufacturers are in particular doing a much better job of incorporating some common security measures into their products, although there is still a long way to go to achieve the desired level of cybersecurity.

X: Are there any steps you think the industry should take in 2018 to rebuild trust in tech in general or social media in particular?

AM: I would use Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) as a great example of a tech giant that has in the past two years begun to reinvent itself. Microsoft has made significant strides in the past year to start the process of re-earning the trust and respect of cyber professionals and experts such as myself. Transparency, collaboration, and bona fide attempts to improve their products and processes are some of the critical factors in rebuilding that trust. Other tech companies and various public and private organizations must do the same to earn back the trust that has been eroded.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a year-end series exploring the current public mood about technology and its effect on individuals and society.]

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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