Digitalization has revolutionized the way that economies, governments, and people communicate and do business. New digital technologies and systems have the potential to deepen democratic participation, accelerate economic development, and improve service delivery across the countries where USAID operates.
However, digitalization is not without considerable risks. Cybersecurity incidents have escalated in both scope and scale, impacting all members of the digital ecosystem. In countries where USAID operates, governments, private sector, civil society, and individuals are increasingly adopting digital tools and services without the necessary resources to combat these cyber threats.
Formed in 2021 under USAID’s Digital Strategy, the Cybersecurity Team advances cybersecurity as an emerging but critical development area.
By helping to broaden understanding of how quickly digital infrastructure and the data environment in the Global South is changing and expanding, and developing and sharing cybersecurity technical assistance, training, research, and other resources, the Cybersecurity Team is increasing USAID and partner capacity to responsibly incorporate cybersecurity into their development portfolios.
POSITIONING USAID AS A LEADER IN CYBERSECURITY CAPACITY BUILDING
Despite increasing awareness that cybersecurity is a digital development priority, global cybersecurity capacity remains low. According to a recent study, the global cybersecurity workforce would need to grow 65 percent to adequately protect critical assets.
Compounding this shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals, many USAID partner countries lack adequate cybersecurity laws, strategies, systems, and institutions to respond to accelerating cyber threats. Cybersecurity threats also vary in scope for different organizations. For example, micro, small, and medium businesses and civil society organizations face a different array of threats than governments and critical infrastructure operators.
As a global leader in large-scale capacity building across a plethora of technical areas, USAID is uniquely positioned to serve as a thought leader on cyber development. By collaborating closely with a diverse group across the interagency, private sector, NGO community, and partner governments, the Cybersecurity Team will help USAID serve as a leader in cybersecurity development programming.
IMPROVING AGENCY AND PARTNER CAPACITY
The USAID Digital Strategy emphasizes cybersecurity as a cross-cutting priority for USAID—all staff and partners must be aware of the ways in which a fast-changing data environment and related cybersecurity challenges impact programming.
The Cybersecurity Team provides insight, analysis, and resources—including technical assistance, primers, toolkits, and training—to help USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Offices better understand how cyber issues affect their priorities and incorporate cyber threat mitigation and capacity-building into their program design and implementation.
In support of this, the Cybersecurity Team released the Cybersecurity Primer designed to build awareness of the impact of cybersecurity on development programming. This first-of-its-kind resource introduces USAID staff and partners to the concept of cybersecurity as a development challenge, presents opportunities to successfully integrate cybersecurity throughout the program cycle, and highlights cyber threat trends by sector.
The team also manages Digital APEX, a Mission-driven program that rapidly deploys cybersecurity technical assistance to USAID implementers and program partners. To date, Digital APEX has worked with 16 Missions, providing cyber hygiene training to over 800 partner staff and helping partners identify over 2,000 distinct cyber vulnerabilities.
BUILDING FUTURE RESILIENCE
Cybersecurity must become a priority— especially as modern development and humanitarian work increasingly uses digital technologies and operates in more digitalized environments. For USAID partners and beneficiaries to access and take advantage of the powerful and important capabilities of new technologies, cybersecurity must be built in throughout the programming cycle.
As changes in technology, cyberspace, and the creation and use of data—especially in the Global South—accelerate over the coming years and beyond, USAID must adapt with these changes, establishing not just one-time solutions, but built in processes that emphasize agility and continued evolution.
The Cybersecurity Team looks to support the future resilience of development and humanitarian assistance by promoting the integration of digital technologies and cybersecurity development programming across all of USAID’s efforts. If you would like to learn more about the team’s work, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.