Exploring the symbiotic relationship that is Digital Trust

Okta recently published the Digital Trust Index. The whitepaper explores the notion of how trust is built, maintained and broken in a digital world, by capturing the sentiments of more than 13,000 office workers.

Understanding digital trust means examining its three related facets: ability, reliability and truth. Belief that someone or something is capable in what they set out to achieve, will deliver on promises made, and can be relied on to be truthful.

Over the past year, the issue of digital trust has come to the fore as we have spent more time working, shopping and connecting with friends and family online. Organisations must be aware of which employees, partners and customers they can trust to access their data and systems. Vice versa, these three groups must trust that an organisation can protect any personal data they share.

Trust starts with security

Across all sectors, CIOs and CSOs have had to divide their time between supporting industry-specific needs and reacting to security threats, often two very different tasks. Many have turned to technology to ensure their organisation is better protected as cybersecurity issues have continued to rise during the pandemic.

Effective security tools and policies, especially those focused on seamlessly managing the identities of users, help to drive stakeholder trust. And an organisation with stringent security in place can trust that each stakeholder only has as much access to business systems as required. This symbiotic online relationship between organisation and stakeholder is what we refer to as digital trust. Without digital trust, like in any other relationship, nothing functions as well as it could or should.

Business and IT leaders must be transparent about the cybersecurity measures and policies they are implementing to foster trust and staff buy-in. We have seen an increase in the number of cyberattacks during the lockdown period as malicious actors attempt to take advantage of the increased threat vectors. F5’s 2020 Phishing and Fraud Report saw a 220% increase in phishing attacks during the pandemic compared to the yearly average.

The Digital Trust Index found that 10% of office workers globally have been the victim of a data breach or cyberattack during the pandemic. But despite this, 27% admit to not knowing if their employer has done anything to protect them from cyberthreats, indicating that businesses need to do more to communicate and educate employees. When asked what their company has implemented in this regard, new security applications and technologies like multi-factor authentication (MFA) were the most popular measure, cited by 29% of office workers.

Workers have become tech-savvy consumers

Over the past year, office workers had no choice but to become digitally savvy consumers, spending more time and money online as the pandemic took hold. In western Europe, consumers spurred a 26% increase in online retail sales in 2020.

This growth in online activity presents the challenge for brands to build new trust and loyalty models. Consumers increasingly demand more tailored services and offers, expecting greater personalisation, particularly from those brands they interact with regularly. If organisations can deliver this customer-centric approach, consumers become more likely to share personal data that further improves their user experience, while differentiating the business and providing valuable insights that help maintain customers and build revenue.

In this, the symbiotic digital trust relationship is crucial. Any mishandling of the consumer’s personal information could lead to trust being lost for good, with 38% of respondents admitting to having lost trust in a company due to a data breach or misuse of data they have heard about. Following this, 44% permanently stopped using the brand’s services and 34% deleted their account altogether, highlighting grave consequences for organisations that do not implement stringent security measures.

It’s clear that trust is vital for digital brands to succeed in today’s highly competitive business landscape. The study revealed that 76% of respondents would be unlikely to purchase from a company that they did not trust.

For brands, this trust is hard won but easily lost. Any word of a breach or data loss is likely to see consumers lose faith. At best, this will manifest itself in changed passwords or negative posts on social media, at worst, consumers will stop using the brand entirely.

In the enterprise, cultivating deeper digital trust begins with a Zero Trust approach, focused on validating identity before trusting anyone in the digital realm. The ultimate strategy maintains identity at the heart of digital security, and invokes risk-based access policies, continuous and adaptive authentication and frictionless access. A symbiotic relationship where the deeper the security, the greater the trust.