By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas should use its "near bottom of the pile" cyber security ranking as motivation to become a "top of the food chain" hub for the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry.
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business that this nation needed to use its 129th ranking in the Global CyberSecurity Index (GCI) as a springboard to realise its ICT potential.
Acknowledging the "concern" created by the GCI rating, Mr Sumner reiterated his previous call for the Government to appoint a dedicated ICT Minister to give focus and direction to the Bahamas' efforts in this area.
He suggested that addressing cyber security issues, as well as promoting this nation's US proximity and connectivity via the fibre optic cable networks in New Providence and Grand Bahama, could attract multinational businesses to these shores.
"I saw the results of that cyber security ranking, and it is a concern to us," Mr Sumner told Tribune Business. "It's no comfort that we're near the bottom of the pile in that, and also sitting where we are in the World Bank's 'ease of doing business' index."
He acknowledged that the Bahamas had already "been plagued with a number of cyber security attacks" on banks, companies and private citizens, "whose data has been breached or compromised through attacks on their systems".
The growing cyber crime menace was further brought home to Bahamians this weekend after Atlantis revealed that a 'malware' attack may have captured credit and debit card data from guests who made purchases at its retail and food and beverage locations between November 1, 2016, and April 3, 2017.
The mega resort destination, the Bahamas' largest employer, said in a statement: "The information at risk as a result of this event for credit or debit cards used at the impacted locations includes the card number, expiration date and CVV."
Mr Sumner said the Chamber planned to host its second cyber security seminar for the private sector this September, following last year's inaugural event in partnership with insurance company, Star General.
With Bahamas-based companies having to invest significant sums to protect themselves, their customer and their IT infrastructure from cyber criminals, Mr Sumner called for a partnership between the Government, private sector and IT industry to combat the problem.
"The professionals in the industry need to begin putting their heads together, make recommendations and advise the Government, private sector and citizens at large how to protect ourselves against these attacks in cyber space," the Chamber chief executive.
With IT providing the platform for virtually all commercial, payment and transactional activity, he added that the Bahamas "should have a full-time minister for ICT" to focus and direct the country's development in this area.
"With the entire world moving to 100 per cent e-government and e-commerce platforms, we should have someone in place to have focused attention on the development of ICT," Mr Sumner told Tribune Business.
"These are things that need to happen. While I'm concerned we're at where we're at on the cyber security index, let us put in measures that strengthen our systems. We will have leapfrogged that list, but the benefit is not to elevate us on that index. It will increase our resilience in cyber space, and build systems and resources to develop the whole ICT infrastructure."
Calling on the Bahamas to look beyond the immediate GCI ranking, the Chamber chief said ICT held great potential as an export industry that could help diversify the economy.
Pushing for more young Bahamians to be directed towards such an industry, Mr Sumner added: "There's absolutely no reason why the Bahamas should not have been by now considered top of the food chain as a hub for international commerce and technology, attracting multinational companies to take advantage of what we have to offer.
"We ought to be promoting this whole industry of ICT as a major industry that others can take advantage of."
Mr Sumner was backed by Winston Rolle, a Bahamian IT specialist, who also emphasised the economic growth opportunity that the ICT industry presents for this nation.
However, he emphasised that the Bahamas needed to address any cyber security weaknesses - real or perceived - if it was to attract technology-based companies and investors to do business from this nation.
"I think it's obviously something we need to be paying attention to," Mr Rolle said of the GCI Index ranking. "I think one of the reasons we're ranked the way we are is nobody has their eye on the big picture. Everyone is conducting business as usual."
He said the basis of the Bahamas' 129th ranking "has to be looked at", given that the Index's authors may have found or been given information that did not accurately reflect what was happening in this nation.
Mr Rolle acknowledged that the GCI ranking could deter investors, but added: "I see it another realm. IT presents a growth opportunity for the country, and it's a matter of ensuring we have the proper infrastructure, that we have the proper security aspects, and we have the proper pricing.
"We have a good cadre of IT professionals, are easily accessible to North America, and it becomes a matter of thinking security, infrastructure and pricing for people to come here and do business.
"I see one of the local cloud-based companies here in the Bahamas is expanding its base through the Caribbean. It shows there's an opportunity here to do a number of things, and the security aspect of it is going to be very important," he continued.
"People have to be confident when conducting business, hosting business in this jurisdiction that all the necessary security measures are in place."