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Why building digital trust should be a business priority

Here's how TrustTech -- an emerging category of technology designed to foster trust, security, and safety online -- can help.

Despite scam tactics often being dismissed as clumsy and obvious – think emails written in broken English and scam calls impersonating figures of authority in a robotic voice – the reality of their impact paints a worrying picture. The Singapore Cyber Landscape 2022 report by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore discovered that losses from scams in Singapore last year totalled a startling $660.7 million.

Contrary to popular belief, over half of the victims were young adults aged 20-39, a demographic typically regarded as tech-savvy and active participants in today's digital economy. They most commonly fell victim to job scams delivered through unsolicited messages on chat applications, with e-commerce scams increasing threefold.

Vulnerabilities to scams clearly aren't related to a lack of digital savviness. Fraudsters employ psychological tactics that create a sense of urgency, exploit trust, and leverage the promise of gain to manipulate their victims. E-commerce scams, for instance, exploit the trust consumers place in online marketplaces and their need for convenient transactions.

Easy availability of advanced AI will only exacerbate scams

For all the damage that scams have done, the reality is that it will likely get worse before it gets better. Easily accessible advanced AI technologies are bringing us to the precipice of a digital trust crisis. Advanced AI tools -- such as Language Learning Models (LLMs), image generators, and deepfake videos -- are now easily accessible to anyone, enabling scams to be executed at scale and with a higher degree of believability. In fact, a recent study even showed that deepfake software has proven effective in bypassing voice authentication systems – widely regarded as one of the safest authentication methods.

When psychological tactics employed by brands are combined with these tech developments, entire industries – especially those reliant on digital platforms – risk heading towards a crisis of digital trust. This refers to individuals' expectations that digital technologies and services, and the organisations providing them, will protect their interests and uphold societal expectations and values.

This impending crisis of digital trust has far-reaching implications for businesses. In an era where online scams are more profound than ever, a breakdown in this trust could lead to customer loss, reputation damage, and potential legal repercussions, among other business risks. With consumers less inclined to trust digital processes and services, the true potential of a digital economy – projected to be valued at US$1 trillion in Asean by 2030 – becomes muted.

To counter this, businesses need to take a proactive approach to digital trust and engage with TrustTech, an emerging category of technology designed to foster trust, security, and safety online. Implementing TrustTech solutions across all organisational levels can provide a comprehensive, multi-layered defence. In this regard, three key factors underpin the effectiveness of TrustTech in an organisation:

  1. Verifiable Technology Solutions
    Fundamentally, a business's customers should always have the confidence to ascertain that the documents, products, and people they interact with are legitimate. Businesses need to deploy technologies that ensure the security of data and transactions that support this – such as solutions that verify the authenticity of certificates, credentials, and transactions.

    Along with these, the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) and biometric systems can enhance access controls and significantly decrease the risk of unauthorised access. AI and machine learning algorithms can also be used to detect unusual activity and identify potential threats. As an example, verifiable technology can produce audit trails to track activities or any changes made to a document within the organisation’s system.

  2. Organisational Culture
    Culture plays a pivotal role in fostering digital trust. It's not just about having the right technology and procedures in place; it's also about people. Regular training programmes can be instrumental in cultivating a culture of security. These programmes should educate employees about the latest scams and fraud techniques, teach them how to identify potential threats and equip them with the skills to respond appropriately.

    Ultimately, a business's touchpoints with its customers are directly, or indirectly, through its employees – from customer service staff to developers designing the platforms that customers interact with. This culture of security needs to be promoted to customers to reassure them of their data safety.

  3. Transparency and Education: Cornerstones of Digital Trust
    Building on the pillars of technological implementation, procedural safeguards, and organisational culture, another crucial element comes into play when establishing digital trust: Transparency. This forms the bedrock of any relationship, especially when it involves handling sensitive user data. Businesses should be clear about their data policies, explaining to users in straightforward terms what data is being collected, why it is necessary, how it will be used, and who it will be shared with, if applicable.

    Transparency also pertains to how businesses respond to security incidents. Prompt, honest, and comprehensive communication about what happened and what steps are being taken to remedy the situation can often help mitigate damage and maintain trust.

Just as employees need training to understand and handle cybersecurity threats, consumers also need to be educated about how to protect their data and what their rights are regarding their data. Consumers who are well-informed about their data rights and the implications of sharing their data are more likely to make conscious, responsible choices about their data privacy. With TrustTech, for instance, data owners can share personal verifiable documents with others, as well as impose a time limit for these third parties to access the document. This way, data ownership is put into the hands of consumers themselves.

The business case for TrustTech

The decision for business leaders to invest in TrustTech can indeed be a difficult one. In the face of a volatile macroeconomic environment, every investment decision is scrutinised, especially those that don't directly contribute to immediate business growth or generate tangible revenue, which TrustTech falls into.

Despite these challenges, investing in TrustTech is becoming increasingly crucial. In a digital era marked by sophisticated scams and powerful AI tools that can recreate counterfeit documents, building digital trust can be a significant differentiator. It can protect a company's reputation, foster customer loyalty, and ultimately, sustain long-term business viability.

In Singapore, government agencies are already turning to verification technology to enhance the credibility of the documents that they issue to citizens through the Verify (Digital Certificates) platform. Whether it’s travel documentation or health certificates, relevant authorities can verify official digital documents through this platform. While the return on investment may not be immediately apparent, building digital trust is a strategic move that will likely pay off in the long run, serving as a robust defence in an increasingly unpredictable digital landscape.

Ultimately, we stand on the brink of a "crisis of trust." It's high time businesses prioritise building digital trust. As the power of generative AI continues to grow, so should our efforts to mitigate its potential harms. Our business landscape is one of rapid change and adaptation; we must ensure we're prepared for what lies ahead. The challenge is immense, but so too is the opportunity. By embracing a culture of trust and security, we can harness the power of AI and ensure it serves as a force for good.

Quah Zheng Wei is the CEO and co-founder of Accredify

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