Imran Ahmad

The ONE National Conference speaker, Imran Ahmad, sits on the board for the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance’s Cyber Council and specializes in cybersecurity, technology and privacy law. (Courtesy of Imran Ahmad)

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Three questions with Imran Ahmad: On cybersecurity and the role of the CPA

The ONE conference speaker and cyber privacy expert shares insight into where Canada stands and how you, the accountant, can respond 

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As the data we share becomes more ubiquitous and privacy laws around the world adapt to catch up, businesses must follow suit, believes business lawyer Imran Ahmad, author of A Handbook to Cyber Law in Canada.

Leading the session Cybersecurity: Threats And Compliance Issues You Can’t Afford To Ignore at the ONE National Conference in Halifax on October 2, Ahmad—who sits on the board for the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance’s (CATA) Cyber Council and specializes in cybersecurity, technology and privacy law—offers key takeaways on how to manage cybersecurity risks at the enterprise-wide level. [See Canadians concerned about identity theft and protection of personal information: CPA Canada Fraud Survey for more.]

CPA Canada sat down with Ahmad in advance of his talk to hear his thoughts on cyber law, Canada’s stance and our role as CPAs and business leaders.  

CPA CANADA: Why did you choose to speak at The ONE National Conference this year and what key messages will you deliver?

IMRAN AHMAD: Because, CPAs—the audience members—are by far at the frontline when it comes to these types of issues. They are aware of what they are seeing in terms of the market trends and key issues that are coming up, especially in the aggressive regulatory market in Canada and abroad. And, they are aware of the aggressive deliveries coming up in the next 12 to 18 months.  

Key messages? Number one: cybersecurity has come to the front of everybody’s radar with the new regulatory regimes on the private sector side. [This will] bring Canada much more in line with the standards out there in terms of data protection and privacy. 

Number two: as more and more assets are being digitized, you are seeing an extra territorial set of privacy laws. The world is significantly changing and it’s changing where Canada has to be in line with these stringent issues as well. 

CPA CANADA: Where does Canada stand on cybersecurity and how are we viewed globally on this matter? 

IA: Unfortunately, we [Canada] are playing catch up and we have been playing catch up for a while. We didn’t have the legal framework that our U.S. and European partners had. We are historically viewed as being flexible and our regulators didn’t have a lot of enforcement power having to go through the courts.  

Now we have changed to much more enforcement-focused regulation. Federal regulators are focused on compliance, proactive audit and compliance capabilities. We are beefing up on resources. 

CPA CANADA: How does cybersecurity affect the individual accountant? What roles and responsibilities do CPAs and business leaders have in this?

IA: I view your members as on the frontline. The real concern is, can they issue the red flags…?

The problem is, Canada has a patchwork of privacy laws, not one central law. We have a federal law for the private sector, we have a federal law for the public sector…every province has its own way of doing things. To navigate the regulatory landscape within the jurisdictions, they [CPAs] should be concerned about what the requirements are for each law. There’s a lot in terms of what they need to know. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.

[For business leaders], I think it’s two-fold. One is just being able to issue spot checks. Knowing what you should be doing from an organizational perspective can be challenging. If you know the issue, do you have the resources, or do you need to get help? Do you invest in your existing IT department or do you need to get a third party to come in? Having that understanding of the organization and resources you need is really challenging. 

BE IN THE KNOW WITH CPA CANADA

Imran Ahmad is leading the talk, Cybersecurity: Threats And Compliance Issues You Can’t Afford To Ignore, at The ONE National Conference on Oct. 2. To stay up-to-date on hot topics impacting the industry today, browse through CPA Canada’s upcoming events, from personal development courses and symposiums to networking opportunities.