Latin America needs to get on its cybersecurity game, according to a new study.

Latin America and the Caribbean region are unprepared for the security challenges of the Internet age, as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Organization of American States (OAS) sent a call on Monday for Latin American countries to step up their cybersecurity efforts.

The call comes as the two institutions, along with Oxford University, released a study this week, "The 2016 Cybersecurity Report: Are we Ready in Latin America and the Caribbean?" showing that much of Latin America is highly vulnerable to potentially devastating cyber attacks.

Most of Latin America Unprepared

The report analyzed the state of cybersecurity preparedness in 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on 49 different criteria of readiness against cyber crime, cyber attacks, and other threats the Internet age has brought.

Those indicators were grouped in five areas: policy and strategy, culture and society education, legal framework, and technology. The report included technical data and analysis of key elements such as the capacity of countries' networks to respond to major breaches and other malicious cyber attacks.

The result? While a few major Latin American countries, like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, were found at an "intermediate level of preparedness," even those countries lag far behind leading countries like the U.S., Israel, Korea, and Estonia.

Worse yet, sixteen countries in the study were found to have zero coordinated capacity to respond to cyber attacks. Only four countries ranked above the "intermediate level" of preparedness, while only six had a structured program of education in cybersecurity, including the budgetary stability and mechanisms necessary for research on cyber threats and learning how to respond to them.

The Call to Action

"This report is a call to action to protect our citizen and our critical infrastructure for the 21st century," said IDB president Luis Alberto Moreno in releasing the report. "Our region arrived late to the Industrial Revolution. We cannot miss the opportunity that the Digital Revolution offers us. Because of that, cybersecurity must be a priority."

Nestor Mendez, the assistant secretary general of OAS, added that as the Internet becomes an increasingly integral part of the daily life of Latin Americans, protecting that resource and peoples' data in the face of increasing threats to cybersecurity should be an increasingly high priority for governments and other important players in the region.

"That is why we have to regard cybersecurity like any other kind of security," said Mendez, adding, that it's "an issue of the highest priority for our people, without which we expose ourselves to potentially catastrophic losses."

The risks will only multiply as the Internet of Things (IoT) begins to pick up steam in the region, which is another controversial issue in its own right that Latin Post has previously reported. In the near future of broad, global IoT adoption not only computers will be connected and thus vulnerable, but a whole slew of sensors, smart devices, and other connected machines that will control much of daily life -- online and off.

"In this context," said Mendez, "Our motto, of 'more rights for more people' signals our commitment to continue working to strengthen the capacity of our counties to protect our people, our economies and the critical infrastructure of our region."