"Alert Online's strength is its partner network"

After an impressive career in the police, Patricia Zorko moved to the Dutch security and justice ministry in 2015. As the ministry's Deputy Counterterrorism and Security Coordinator and Director of Cyber Security, her portfolio includes Alert Online, the campaign organised as part of European Cybersecurity Month in October. SIDN has partnered Alert Online for some years, so we have been talking to Patricia Zorko about the success of the awareness campaign.

How did Alert Online come into being?

Zorko: "The Diginotar hack in 2011 was a wakeup call for the Netherlands. It impacted on the continuity of government services. We realised at that point that we needed to improve our digital resilience in order to prevent subsequent digital crises. The incident made us appreciate how important the human factor is in digital security. So we decided to do something to raise awareness. Alert Online was set up to make the general public, government bodies and other organisations aware of digital dangers and to provide guidance on how to protect themselves. We couldn't restrict ourselves to a narrow target group, because cyberthreats are relevant to everyone."

Patricia-Zorko-260x260

Patricia Zorko, Deputy Counterterrorism and Security Coordinator and Director of Cyber Security

Alert Online is a joint effort by a large number of partners. Why was that model preferred to a more centralised approach?

Zorko: "Digital security is everyone's responsibility. So all the input from all the partners is important. No one knows an organisation's staff the way the organisation itself does; the organisation understands its own needs. So we've opted to play a facilitating role, providing the Alert Online Toolkit, complete with a range of awareness materials, because that way we maximise the reach of our important digital security message. The model we use also means there's scope for organisations to support each other. Of course, some partners have special responsibilities, because they are part of our vital infrastructure. SIDN is one. Such organisations have a special responsibility to make their staff aware of digital hazards."

What has Alert Online achieved so far?

Zorko: "Many organisations have launched awareness initiatives. Which is great to see! A lot of material has been developed and deployed within partner organisations. There's the Alert Online Escape Room, for example: a game that teaches people about digital hazards. The intelligence gathered from the annual Alert Online Awareness Survey is important as well."

What were the main findings of this year's survey?

Zorko: "The findings will be presented in stages during Cyber Month (October). So I can't tell you too much just yet. However, the central conclusion is that the Dutch public's digital and online security knowledge is gradually increasing. Two thirds of people think that they know enough about digital security and more than half take action following a cyber-attack. Those figures are both up on last year. So awareness promotion is working."

What activities are on this year's programme?

"Far too many to mention them all! It's great to see the number and diversity of activities listed on the Alert Online website calendar. We've got everything from congresses and information sessions to webinars. The national government will be spotlighting security throughout October. For example, we're holding the ONE Conference, we're launching a nationwide campaign (‘Check Before You Click’) and at the end of October the interior ministry is organising a cyber-exercise that will focus on incidents where online government services go down. It all begins with a kick-off event for partners on 26 September. That's exclusively for Alert Online partners, and the idea is to go over the findings of the National Awareness Survey. The event will be an opportunity for partner organisations to exchange information about what they're doing in this field. We can all learn a lot from each other!"

Cybercrime is increasing. What does that imply for Alert Online?

Zorko: "It means that Alert Online's message is increasingly relevant. Of course, there are various ways of tackling cybercrime. On the one hand you have detection and enforcement, and on the other you have prevention. Through Alert Online, we want to help people and organisations avoid becoming victims. A lot of problems can be avoided by thinking carefully about what you do on line, and by having good security. Choosing strong passwords and updating your software promptly; that sort of thing. Anyone who wants to know more about what they can do will find plenty of information on veiliginternetten.nl and alertonline.nl”.

Has Alert Online changed since 2012?

Zorko: "The most pleasing thing from my viewpoint is that Alert Online is no longer an isolated awareness initiative. It's now part of a broader landscape, with veiliginternetten.nl and campaigns such as Don't Make It Easy For Them and Check Before You Click. Then there's the Digital Trust Centre: a great initiative for helping enterprises do business on line securely. As well as the centralised initiatives, a lot of businesses and other organisations are running their own internal awareness programmes. I see Alert Online's strength as its partner network, and the route to success is reinforcing, facilitating and encouraging action within that network. The challenge is to ensure that the various initiatives are complementary and mutually reinforcing. In the years ahead, therefore, I expect increasing focus on the partner network and on promoting and facilitating action by partner organisations." Want to know more about all the Alert Online activities? Visit alertonline.nl.

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