A report by US-based Inter-American Development Bank and the Organisation of American States has revealed that Latin America and the Caribbean are highly vulnerable to potentially devastating cyber-attacks.The report said that four out of five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have a strategy to prevent cyber-attacks.The report added that nations such as Mexico, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Chile have an intermediate level of preparedness, but remain far from advanced nations like the United States, Estonia and Israel.When we hear about data breaches in the news, it’s usually the big names in countries that are thousands of miles away. We hardly stop to think about our own vulnerabilities and examine ways we can protect ourselves. However, as many countries and large corporations invest in ramping up security, hackers are turning their sights elsewhere, to targets that may not have the resources to fend off their attacks.The international institutes have called on regional governments to step up cybersecurity, saying that two out of three countries do not have a command and control centre for cybersecurity.The question is how can persons protect themselves, organisations and employees? We need to understand why the issue of cybersecurity is important in the first place. In this high-tech era, cybersecurity is more important than ever. Most of our daily transactions are being conducted via digital technology, from socialising to e-commerce. It is true that we may be lagging behind most countries in this regard, but we are well on our way.Quite recently, Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes revealed great plans for Guyana’s e-governance system which are aimed at decentralising Government’s services, providing telemedicine services, distance education and the submission and marking of examination materials even at the level of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), among other things. They pointed to the establishment of an interconnected digital platform that can provide Government services to citizens in an efficient, cost-saving and efficient manner.To make this a reality, the Administration has consulted with the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, to assess the feasibility of expanding the coastal fibreoptic network to include other areas of the country.Sections of the local media reported that Government’s announcement comes at a time when US security experts have cautioned major telecommunications companies like AT&T against using Huawei’s services because of fears of espionage.Amid the uncertainty about this partnership, the Telecommunications Minister assured that Guyana has been placing great emphasis on cybersecurity and Guyana has been sending officials overseas to conferences “so that we can be up to date about mechanisms that could be put in place to protect the integrity of national data”.Officials also assured that every conceivable step was being taken to protect data, largely with support from the Organisation of American States of which the United States is a major supporter.Whether there is genuine cause for concern is left to be seen; however, we need to take the possibility of a cyber-threat seriously.Experts recommend simple steps that can be taken to prevent hacks and protect information. Many in today’s workforce do not realise how easy it is to be fooled by innocent-looking attachments and links within malicious emails. Viruses, ransomware, and malware can invade your system with just one click. Once the trap is sprung, all of a person business’ sensitive data becomes a free-for-all for cybercriminals. Ensuring that employees are aware of the risks is crucial.Persons also need to ensure the company hired to host its website has a good reputation and utilises proven security practices such as encryption. There are many other small, albeit crucial measures that can be taken to safeguard ourselves. These include but are not limited to securing our websites with SSL encryption, using a Secure Hosted Shopping Cart; persons have to be able to trust e-commerce platforms (online shopping is becoming increasingly popular in Guyana), protecting themselves and business with Web Application Firewalls and certainly, by no means least, changing passwords regularly.No matter what preventive measures a person take, there will always continue to be more advanced hackers trying to get at personal or company data, persons simply need to ensure that they are doing all that they can to guard against cyber-attacks.