(Illustration: GE)

Cyber security costs money but it's worth it. That's the lesson learned from last week's massive ransomware attack, which caused major problems for authorities, hospitals. companies and private citizens across the globe.

It's also a lesson the auto industry should take to heart. CIOs of automotive companies are committed to keeping offices, factories and cars safe. But cyber criminals move fast and making sure systems are protected isn't easy.

In last week's attack, especially bigger corporations and institutions apparently didn't keep their Microsoft software up to date.

The reason is obvious: A private computer user can simply run a software update whenever required. It's more complicated to do the same for a company-wide network with plant and offices worldwide and thousands or 10s of thousands of users running a myriad of different applications.

In this environment, every software update requires testing, authentication, checking with all company departments, dealing with potential conflicts and, finally, when everything works, giving the official OK.

That takes time and manpower.

Adequate resources are required to deal with cyber security. It's worth it because an attack like the one that happened last week can cost more, much more, than the expense of bringing more IT staff on board.

But it's not just IT specialists who keep companies safe. IT systems need to be steadily modernized as well. "In a world where security technology makes giant leaps forward on a quarterly basis, no one should be surprised that a 14-year old operating system is vulnerable to attack," John Gunn, chief marketing officer at Vasco Data Security, said in a written statement.

DSC_2999-small-vertical-241x300 Arjen Bongard is editor-in-chief of automotiveIT International

Vasco said unpatched operating systems and outdated authentication methods share the blame for last week's attack. "We live in a world where attacks employ remarkable ingenuity and we must use the latest innovations in defense or suffer the consequences," the data security expert said.

IT executives say they can effectively fight off cyber attacks if they have the resources. But within many corporate structures, IT continues to be seen as a cost center rather than a function that's crucial to the profitability of the enterprise.

With digital transformation  central to the auto industry's future and IT the make-or-break success factor, companies should spend whatever it takes to protect themselves.

-By Arjen Bongard