Let’s talk about Psybersecurity, with Dr. Ryan Louie
Guest: Ryan K. Louie, M.D., Ph.D. Psychiatrist
Host: Marco Ciappelli
It seems like three weeks have been gone by since RSA Conference in San Francisco ended, and that is because it has been three weeks! We didn’t take a vacation or laze around after that busy week; on the contrary, we worked even harder than usual. Most of all because it was such a good event for ITSPmagazine that we had to produce all the content we filmed and recorded, write some emails, articles, ransom notes, follow up with potential sponsors and podcast guests, and keep the relationships going with all the new friends we made there.
I also had to spend quite some time thinking about how this year’s event felt different, more fulfilling from a human perspective and more in line with my vision of technology — and therefore cybersecurity — adopting a multidisciplinary approach and becoming one with society. This podcast is about this change and it is with one of those new friends. His name is Ryan Louie, he is a psychiatric doctor and he specializes in mental health in the cybersecurity profession and the various ways that technology affects people in our cyber society.
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I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Dr. Ryan Louie at RSAC, where he had two speaking sessions: Mental Health in Cybersecurity: Preventing Burnout, Building Resilience and Psybersecurity . He was already on one of our Chats on the Road to RSAC 2019 podcasts introducing one of those talks: Chats On The Road To RSAC 2019 | Cybersecurity Starts With Mental Security | With Ryan Louie.
In today’s conversation we talk about the fact that there are no doubts that technology has become an essential part of our society as a whole and our everyday life as individuals, and because of this it is obvious that the repercussions that it has on our psychology is a factor we need to take into consideration when discussing topics at the intersection of IT Security and Society. It is not by accident that Dr. Louie uses the term “Psybersecurity” when technology, security and safety cross the boundaries and become an integral part of our perception of human security. We can pretend that it is not happening yet and that it is still in the sci-fi realm, but as with many other phenomena, whether we ignore it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that it has an an impact on us.
In the last thirty years, technology has been progressing at an incredibly fast pace and has become one with people’s life. This has never happened before. Smart phones, wearable, apps, and IoT devices are now pretty much an extension of our bodies; social media platforms have effectively become part of our social life; artificial intelligence and robotics have gone from science fiction novels to everyday conversations; fake news — including images and videos — that is meant to manipulate a person’s emotions and behaviors has become a real danger to our perception of reality. So what does cybersecurity mean for people? It means that all these new realities are challenging our mental health’s delicate balance as we are constantly at risk of getting manipulated, cheated, challenged, stressed, depressed, addicted or affected by any kind of issue related to the usage of technology.
So how can we become aware of these risks and protect ourselves? Identifying an anomaly is a key element and fundamental first step in the process of recognizing a mental issue, and therefore taking action to prevent an imbalance from becoming a serious problem is crucial. It is in the “gray zone” that lies between healthy and unhealthy where undiagnosed and overlooked mental issues linger. Education and awareness are the best tools to apply to the process of self analysis, but equally important — if not even more effective — is the support and monitoring coming from the people around us.
Dr. Louie suggests some simple techniques to start looking at this gray area and see if we are falling into it: we can start by simply asking ourselves “How am I doing today?” Work, family, daily tasks, etc. — is everything ok, are we as effective as we usually are, or do we see/feel some unusual changes in behavior? The second step is to ask our friends, family, coworkers, and people who know us well enough to be able to notice changes as they can spot those much more effectively from the outside. The third is to use some techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is an effective therapy tool to track people’s emotions and behaviors.
Today it is undeniable that technology is an integral part of our life and as such it can influence the way we feel, act and interact, and as such it can affect our mental health. There is already such a thing called Technology Assessment to understand a person’s perspective, usage and attitude towards their technology, which shouldn’t be confused with the sociological Technology Assessment (the study and evaluation of new technologies based on the assumption that technological progress can never be free of societal and ethical implications). It seems to me that in both cases we are reinforcing the necessity of looking at technology as an extension of humanity, not as a standalone phenomenon, but something to be analyzed and evaluated with a multidisciplinary effort and especially from a social science perspective.
This is another loud reminder that the future is now, and the cyber society we talk about is not some far-off scenario, but is life right in this moment as I am writing this. Cybersecurity is not this abstract concept that may or may not be a problem, or that may or may not affect us. We must be able to picture it as part of our concrete world and take it out of the realm of abstraction. Technology is bringing enormous positive contributions to our daily lives and our society as a whole, and cybersecurity and awareness are essential parts of it. Education and preventive strategies are a must to contain the negativity and amplify the positivity of what is not only inevitable but very much desirable.
Let’s put it this way: if you are able to send a message and even some flowers to your loved ones at any time, from any place, it is because of technology; but if you can do it in a private and secure way, it is because of cybersecurity. And moreover, if you keep your devices and online activities secure, you keep your loved ones safe too.
I invite you to listen to this podcast and I am going to use Ryan’s own words: “As the world of devices and technology becomes increasingly connected with human users, the security of each becomes one and the same.”