Dell EMC’s Aisling Keegan: ‘Hackers are getting skilled in deep tech, too’

4 Jan 2019

Aisling Keegan, vice-president and general manager, Dell EMC Ireland. Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Cybersecurity is the biggest spend on the checklist of CIOs, says Dell EMC Ireland country manager Aisling Keegan.

In December 2016, Aisling Keegan was named vice-president and general manager of Dell EMC Ireland. She was selected as chief integration officer for the UK and Ireland region following the $67bn merger of Dell and EMC, the largest merger in tech industry history.

In recent weeks, she hosted more than 500 customers and partners of the company at the Dell Technology Forum in Dublin.

‘61pc of organisations surveyed said that they would be investing in cybersecurity’

Keegan has spent almost 20 years working with Dell, where she has held a number of leadership positions across the small, medium and large enterprise customer segments.

She is highly respected in the UK and Ireland tech industry. In 2014, the Women’s Executive Network named her as one of the top 25 most influential women in Ireland.

In its recent technology predictions for 2019, unveiled at the Dell Technology Forum, the company forecasted that the data-driven digital economy will reshape life, work and business in the coming 12 months. The forthcoming trends for 2019 were:

  • the data goldmine will require a multi-tiered approach to cloud
  • AI and machine learning will lead to the largest productivity increases seen in years
  • 5G will speed up data and the shift to software-defined IT
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will bring more creativity to the workplace
  • collaboration will go beyond the meeting invite in order to get more done together
  • blockchain will create a chain reaction across organisations
Are Irish organisations leaders or laggards when it comes to digital transformation?

In terms of the digital investment that organisations in Ireland are making, only 7pc of those organisations felt that they were digital leaders and only 11pc felt that they were digital adopters.

Those that feel they are on the right path and doing the right things represent only about 18pc of all organisations surveyed. Compared to the findings globally from two years ago, that is actually lower combined than the organisations surveyed then. A lower percentage of Irish organisations two years on actually feel they are adopting or leading the way from a digital transformation perspective.

That’s a scary point, and by default that means that 82pc of companies surveyed in Ireland consider themselves either laggards, digital evaluators … assessing their own plan for devising a strategy plan … or are followers. Again, that’s a higher percentage of a sample survey uncovered across the globe two years ago.

You have exclusive research on the Irish marketplace that suggests cybersecurity will take up the most IT spend in the year ahead. Is that correct?

One of the biggest inhibitors to businesses accelerating the digital transformation journey is cybersecurity and invasion of privacy, and therefore by default it is one of the biggest initiatives.

61pc of organisations surveyed said that they would be investing in cybersecurity and data privacy programmes as part of their digital initiative, which doesn’t surprise me when you look at some of the conversations we are having with customers on a daily basis.

It is one of the biggest threats to transformation because of this explosion of data. We estimate that by 2020, there will be 44 zettabytes, or 0.4trn gigabytes, of data in the world.

There was more data generated in the last two years than in the last 2,000 years, and 90pc of data breaches are occurring at the end-point device. In less than two years, there will be a million times more data because of the emergence of the internet of things or the acceleration of sensors everywhere, and all of these cognitive technologies like AI that are being brought to market.

That means that organisations are going to be significantly more exposed to cyberthreats and ransomware attacks.

And then you have the new regulations with GDPR, which means that every organisation needs to prove they are GDPR-compliant. There’s a whole plethora of regulatory forces in play in the market; the explosion in devices like sensors and connectors; and, as a result, just an incredible amount of data that is going to be stored, managed, replicated and automated everywhere, from the edge to the core to the cloud.

That is seen by the Irish enterprise customer as an inhibitor and a big need for investment in the years to come.

How well prepared are organisations for infosec defence? Will there be hard lessons?

From an Irish perspective, for every customer we speak to, it is on their agenda or their plan of action in terms of the security posture of the organisation because of the regulations. That is definitely driving awareness and a need and a will.

Hackers are getting skilled in deep tech, too. They are actually using the same technologies that firms are investing in to infiltrate quicker and respond faster if they meet resistance, getting into those organisations and doing damage. For me, the security resilience of an organisation is absolutely critical because we’ve seen organisations literally go out of business after a breach and jobs lost.

But, actually, as these emerging technologies accelerate in the main, so does the risk increase because the hackers are as well versed in these to be able to break down barriers and security perimeters faster, quicker and more creatively than they ever did before, and that’s a consideration organisations are realising.

It’s not a question of if, there is almost a guarantee they will be breached. It’s just a question of when.

Even after a breach, the average time to detect a breach in an organisation is something like 300 days … so organisations need to look at technologies that can pre-empt and predict through AI and machine learning to predict potential events based on behaviours that they are observing in the environment and the organisation.

Security is a serious inhibitor but also an opportunity that is exacerbated by the fact that the adversaries out there that are trying to create business for themselves through ransomware attacks, are actually leveraging the same technologies that every organisation is looking to leverage to create value.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years