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IE vulnerability exposes growing Canadian knowledge gap

Carmi Levy
A lock icon, signifying an encrypted Internet connection, is seen on an Internet Explorer browser in a photo illustration in Paris April 15, 2014. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

News this week of a major vulnerability in Microsoft’s (MSFT) Internet Explorer browser underscores how exposed Canadian companies are to compromised technology – and to insufficient tech knowledge.

In a security advisory first posted on April 26th, Microsoft explained how the vulnerability, which affects versions 6 through 11, inclusive, of the market-dominant browser, could allow hackers to gain control over affected systems by convincing users to view rogue websites embedded with malicious code.

The weakness affects an estimated 56 per cent of all global browsers running on Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 PCs, Windows RT tablets and Windows Server 2003, 2008 and 2012. Microsoft has not yet created a patch, and even when it does – the Redmond, Washington-based software firm is aiming to make it available as a free download on May 13th – machines running Windows XP will not be updated as the company no longer provides security updates for that operating system. Data from CNET suggests 26.3 per cent of all web traffic in April originated from machines running Windows XP.

This latest blow to IE is prompting Canadian businesses to switch to alternative browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and tighten PC-based security. All this comes as PwC confirms a growing knowledge gap between the need for Canadian businesses to leverage technology and their ability to do so.

Desire yes. Ability no.

According to PwC’s 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey, 85 per cent of respondents believe innovation is important to their bottom line. But fully 30 per cent don’t bother to measure innovation at all. The report also suggests the majority of business here continue to rely exclusively on internal expertise instead of seeking fresh ideas from the outside. Only 14 per cent of Canadian companies engage universities and labs to drive emerging technology initiatives, far short of their American and British counterparts, who look to these external resources 48 per cent and 54 per cent of the time, respectively.

The survey also suggests Canadian businesses want to be more tech savvy, but fall short on execution. While 72 per cent of respondents are concerned about their ability to protect customer data and intellectual property, only half of them are updating their strategies to accommodate these competencies. Similarly, almost three-quarters of Canadian businesses say they need to dig deep into customer and company data, but only 44 per cent are actually doing it.

Marketing, meet IT

As the external technology environment becomes more threatening, these figures reinforce the need for Canadian businesses to change the way they work to close the gap. To raise the organization’s so-called “digital IQ”, PwC suggests aligning marketing and IT more closely together – both at a strategic and project-by-project level – to ensure the right skills are leveraged. The report recommends implementing a digital operating model that clearly outlines complementary role definitions, accountabilities and partnership opportunities for the CIO and CMO. Unfortunately, Canada lags in this area, too, with only 42 per cent of companies saying the two roles enjoy a strong relationship compared to 70 per cent of top-performing companies globally.

The IE vulnerability comes hard on the heels of last month’s Heartbleed scare, and it’s only a matter of time before the next technological time bomb goes off. Reports like this one reinforce how ill-prepared most Canadian businesses are, and how vulnerable they are to competitors – on both sides of the border – who take the time to not only recognize technology’s impact, but also invest in the ability to do something about it to reduce exposure and bolster domestic and international competitiveness.

Security weaknesses are the new normal in today’s interconnected economy, and Canadian businesses could find themselves falling further behind unless they start bridging the gap between recognition and action.

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own. carmilevy@yahoo.ca