The Russian Kremlin ordered officials stop using iPhones, apparently out of concern that the devices could be vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, Reuters reports. When surveillance-as-a-service companies are exposed to brutally undermining device security, it’s hard to imagine there’s no argument. But the bigger story isn’t the damage to Apple’s small business in Russia, it’s the threat to digital supply chains it shows.
We must protect digital supply chains
After years of trying to build robust physical supply chains, it would be easy to imagine that things should get better. But a new threat to business is emerging as digital supply chains grapple with political fragmentation.
This was part of the discussion on Mobile World Congress in 2023, according to Aliette Mousnier-Lompré, CEO of Orange Business. She wrote: “I was struck by the general concerns of virtually everyone I’ve spoken to about what global politics may mean in terms of the fragmentation of digital supply chains.”
That fragmentation is not only represented by smartphone tribalism in Moscow. It won’t just see nation states invest in new operating systems designed to protect state property. It’s unlikely to stop dystopian control through internet content or data protection. It could possibly extend to damage standards that form the basis of all the technology we use.
If they don’t work together, they don’t work at all
We are already seeing traces of that.
Think of the dozens of smart home standards that are only now trying to merge into the Matter standard for smart devices. Also consider the three flavors of 5G that exist. In the context of our time, these represent the thin end of a menacing wedge.
Predicting the impact of such a threat is far from easy: but if you’ve ever lost data after plugging your device into a public USB power outlet, you probably have an idea of what’s at stake. How long will it remain an open secret that C-class executives sometimes throw away their smartphones after visiting certain places because they think they’ve been hacked?
What threats are there?
While there are always multiple threats, there are two primary threats to digital supply chains.
That same mindset can easily be extended to intentionally fabricating security flaws within open source components to the standards that so much of our technology uses.
What could be the consequences?
The consequences of these threats can be far-reaching:
- Disruptions in the digital supply chain threaten the physical supply chain.
- Data can be lost, stolen, controlled and misused.
- Companies can suffer reputational damage as a result.
- Financial loss is a real possibility.
Not only these, but as digital is now embedded in every business process, threats to digital supply chains can affect any industry, with additional consequences and potentially a threat to national security.
Think about it. In today’s digital business environment, the “services” category is something much bigger than Ted Lasso and Apple Music; it also encompasses countless complex cloud services smartly crafted for specific business uses. Such services must work well together, be available on multiple platforms, and security must be paramount.
That need certainly extends to artificial intelligence – why would a company want to depend on an enterprise AI that isn’t transparent about what happens to data fed into the system? Where do those questions go when they are asked, and who has access to it?
How does a company navigate these threats?
As always, safety remains a primary consideration. On-site and off-site backups become critical. A company should spend time considering data sovereignty, especially around the use of cloud services. Knowing where a server is located is not only important for staying on the right side of GDPR rules, it’s also about making sure a company knows where that data is going throughout its journey. And where it could leak.
Redundancy also matters, and in the context of unstable digital systems, it makes sense for business leaders to think about more resilient digital connections, perhaps using private 5G networks or leased physical connections to form resilient backbones.
We need better decisions
But ultimately, technology companies, including Apple, business leaders and politicians, need to think about the implications of the decisions they make for interoperability. Because if interoperability between standards, platforms and systems is not maintained, the digital glue will drive the aspirations of the few who believe that economic growth is even remotely possible in an environment marked by climate collapse, political polarization and scarcity of resources. resources will come to naught.
To save the economy, digital interoperability is critical, privacy essential and security mandatory. This extends to state-mandated loopholes and nation-state-invested digital device hacks that must be obsessively eradicated to deny dictators like those in the Kremlin an argument in the first place. Simply put, in the digital world, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Good luck with that.
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