The role of a futurist in predicting what’s next in cybersecurity

25 Nov 2020699 Views

Heather Vescent. Image: © Sandra Goodin Photogtraphy

Futurist, cybersecurity expert and author Heather Vescent discusses her own career, the cybersecurity landscape and why she believes the future is a friendly place.

A self-proclaimed ‘scientist of the future’, Heather Vescent has plenty of experience in cybersecurity, tech and futurist topics.

Her first career was in product management in Silicon Valley, helping to build and launch more than 50 internet and software products. “I’m all about understanding the problem technology is truly solving for humanity,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

After growing tired of working for start-ups, Vescent went back to school and got a master’s degree in strategic foresight to become a legitimate “trained futurist”, rather than just a strategist.

Since then, she has deep-dived into several ‘future of’ topics, hosted two podcast series, and wrote and produced several video scenarios about the future. “I am all about understanding how technology impacts humanity, to help us harness it for positive benefits.”

‘I am all about understanding how technology impacts humanity, to help us harness it for positive benefits’
– HEATHER VESCENT

Vescent also has extensive experience and passion for the cybersecurity industry, having written a number of books on the topic. Her interest in this area came from work she did for the US Army, where she was exploring the future of military education.

“For the scenario, we had to have a curriculum and the most concerning area of the future that the military must train for is cyber war. So, our scenarios included cybersecurity training and I had to research a lot of cybersecurity to create a fake future military cybersecurity training curriculum and learning environment.”

She later collaborated with a long-time professional friend, Bob Blakely, to research and write a paper identifying 12 new future scenarios and 12 new security paradigms using strategic foresight. Then, she “just kept going down the rabbit hole”.

“My parallel expertise in digital identity has become more relevant as cybersecurity breaches attack data payloads and companies are looking to use more secure digital identity and data security technology,” she said. “I am currently the co-chair of the W3C Credentials Community Group, which helps to develop new technology standards for increased data protection.”

The portrayal of the future

Vescent said she feels very lucky to be able to write and produce video scenarios about the future, and has ambitions for producing a full docuseries about the future.

“A few years ago, I tried to get a series about the future of money off the ground. However, Hollywood is a hard place to break into if you don’t know the right people.” For now, the dream of having her own future-focused docuseries is still a work in progress.

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“It’s always hard for me to watch documentaries done by outsiders on a topic when they don’t always interview the right people or get the right experts, in my opinion, not to mention when the experts they interview on camera lack diversity,” she said.

“One reason I wanted to produce my own stuff is to counteract the typical dystopian view of the future. The future is a friendly place that is inclusive for everyone, not just what the media decides to portray. I have always tried to show a diverse, friendly, positive vision of the future in my scenarios. I am proud that my video scenarios include lots of women and POC actors,” she said.

“However, my work tends to stay in its niche, where it has a limited impact on the future. I’m still waiting to break into the mainstream.”

Emotional aspects of cybersecurity

Vescent said she believes that while there’s a lot of talk about cybersecurity tech, it’s also important to think about the “emotional aspects of cybersecurity”.

“Hackers use emotion and immediacy to cause targets to be unbalanced. So, when you are being emotionally triggered, take a step back. I realise this is hard to do when all of 2020 is emotionally triggering.

“We don’t always talk about the ways to increase our own emotional resilience and the things that platforms, the media and technology can do to decrease drama and increase a calm balanced response.”

Vescent also said that while those in the infosec community can work with futurists to identify new potential threats and attack vectors, they also need to make cybersecurity accessible to those outside the community.

“This has been the most secure US election ever – but because [the general public] don’t necessarily have a lot of security training, they might not take someone else’s word for it. So, like with many new technologies, you have to make complex technology problems and solutions accessible and exciting to everyday people. And that can be a challenge.”

This is one of the things Vescent was hoping to achieve with her book Cyber Attack Survival Manual. “[The goal was to] give people practical, actionable advice while entertaining them with crazy, fun, dramatic, scary stories they can share with friends.”

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Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com