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How to reduce the carbon footprint of your cybersecurity operations

Mon 29 Jan 2024

In this opinion piece, Suid Adeyanju, CEO of RiverSafe, navigates the intricate balance between escalating cybersecurity demands and their environmental implications, suggesting ways to lower your carbon footprint.

He highlights the immense energy and water consumption of data centres powering our cyber defences, which are set to intensify with the burgeoning threat of cybercrime.

Adeyanju not only raises awareness of this growing environmental challenge, but also suggests sustainable strategies, urging organisations to adopt eco-friendlier cybersecurity solutions. This piece serves as a crucial call to action, blending digital security with environmental responsibility.

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The environmental impact of cybersecurity

Cybercrime is a gargantuan threat to every single business operating today. But it’s not the only danger we need to worry about.

Cybercrime is on track to cost companies £8.2 trillion ($10.5 trillion) a year by 2025 — up from £2.3 trillion ($3 trillion) in 2015.

Powered by technological developments like AI and the growing opportunities offered by ongoing digital transformation, attacks on businesses of all sizes are becoming more complex, more frequent, and more damaging.

If organisations want to protect themselves from costly incidents like malware attacks, phishing, and data breaches, building a strong cybersecurity posture is essential. But so is protecting our environment.

The engines that keep the wheels of cloud technology turning are far less visible than on-site servers, and often, the environmental consequences of cloud computing can feel like a case of out of sight, out of mind. But cloud security solutions do not run on fairy dust.

It’s no secret that, while they are essential to the modern digital world, the colossal data centres from which our cybersecurity applications, platforms, and services are run consume massive amounts of energy and water.

Collectively, data centres use about 3% of the world’s electricity—set to rise to 8% by 2030 as a result of increased demand and digital usage. Plus, the average hyperscale can use up to 5 million gallons of water every day through its cooling systems.

Resources go in, and greenhouse gases come out. And the carbon footprint of cybersecurity technology is only going to grow as the arms race between organisations trying to protect themselves and cybercriminals looking to exploit them rages on.

So how can we make sure we are defending our virtual assets in a way that is both effective and sustainable, while inflicting minimal injury on the environment?

How to reduce your cybersecurity carbon footprint

Striking a sustainable balance between tight digital security and the potential impact that these cybersecurity operations have on the planet is tricky, but there are steps that organisations can take to reduce the carbon footprint of their cybersecurity efforts.

Migrate security solutions to the cloud

Despite the high resource consumption that comes with cloud computing, it is a far more sustainable option—up to 98% more energy efficient, in fact—than running on-premises solutions.

So if your business is still operating legacy cybersecurity solutions from your own servers, it could be time to migrate them to the cloud where you may get access to smarter features and greater scalability.

Today’s data centres are massive operations, but work has long been underway to make them more climate-friendly by design. Leading CSPs are making huge strides in creating more efficient data centres, reducing the resources they use through renewable energy usage, server optimisation, virtualisation, and advanced cooling techniques.

Google, Microsoft and AWS are all committed to powering their data centres with 75% renewable energy by 2025, with plans to be fully carbon neutral by 2030.

Work with vendors committed to sustainability

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are a growing concern for modern businesses. Consumers want to know that the companies they are working with are ethical, and keep concerns like the climate crisis in mind when developing their products and services.

The cybersecurity industry is no exception, with more and more solution providers putting sustainability front and centre, and aiming to be transparent about what they are doing to offset their impact on our world.

Adding this kind of environmental responsibility to your list of criteria when choosing cybersecurity products can make a big difference.

Splunk, for example, has outlined plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and recently launched the cross-functional Splunk Sustainability Collaborative to help it realise its goals. Look for vendors that are committed to taking positive, tangible action on climate change.

Use smarter data storage

Many key pillars of cybersecurity, like SIEM and UEBA, work by analysing huge amounts of data to detect potential threats and anomalies. The larger an organisation’s digital footprint grows, the more data there is for these platforms to process, collate, and scrutinise.

That data has to go somewhere. And much of it needs to be securely stored for set periods of time to comply with data regulations or privacy laws.

Data storage is the main source of the average data centre’s energy consumption. And since there is a lot that can be done to optimise the collection and storage of data, that is good news for any company aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of their cybersecurity operations.

The cost of cloud storage, and its relative energy consumption, depend on how accessible the data needs to be. If you are happy to put your data on a higher virtual shelf, so to speak, then it might take a little longer to gain access to it, but it will be less resource-intensive to store.

Conducting regular data audits is a good way of keeping on top of data hygiene, and making sure your data is not eating up more resources than it needs to. Remove duplicates, review storage levels to see if any data could be archived in a more efficient way, and develop a lifecycle policy to make sure any unneeded data is deleted.

Rethinking e-waste

Though your cybersecurity applications and services themselves may be run in the cloud, your team still needs to be able to access them via quality hardware and devices. This is especially true if you are trying to reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint by offering remote work.

These devices do not last forever, and what to do with all the e-waste that is produced as a result is a pressing environmental issue. Today, the processing of e-waste creates around 18 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

Prevention is always better than cure, so you can mitigate the impact of e-waste by choosing devices that are built to be more environmentally friendly.

Things to look out for include low power consumption, the use of recyclable or biodegradable materials, and vendor schemes that help you dispose of old or broken tech responsibly through repurposing or reuse wherever possible.

Like so many things in our lives today, cybersecurity is essential despite the environmental impact it may have. The threat of cybercrime and the potential damage it can cause is simply too great to let security take a backseat, but there are steps we can all take to make our cybersecurity operations greener.

And with these increasingly eco-friendly cybersecurity solutions, we can better protect the planet, the precious resources we rely on, and the organisations that safeguard them.

About the Author

Before co-founding RiverSafe in 2010, Suid Adeyanju worked as an Information Security consultant for various organisations in the private and public sector, initially providing his services in network security space before specialising in Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) technologies.

Suid has 15 years’ experience working on large security projects for blue-chip organisations likeThomson Reuters, BP, BAA, TfL, and more.

Suid is also committed to driving a more balanced and diverse workforce. He is a regular speaker on diversity and sustainability issues, and is dedicated to making a positive difference in the industry.

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