The WEF has warned world leaders about the impact of increasingly virulent cyber-attacks on global stability
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has listed the top five risks facing world leaders today, and somewhat predictably it found that cyber-attacks are now among the top five risks to global stability.
So said the WEF in its Global Risks for 2012 report.
The report interviewed 469 experts and industry leaders about the perceived impact and likelihood of 50 prevalent risks facing the world today. These risks were spread across different categories including economic (major semimic finacial failure), environmental (greenhouse gases, polution), geopolitical (weapons of mass destruction), society (population growth, food or water shortages) and technology.
In the technology sphere, the report was most concerned about critical systems failure, cyber attacks, mineral resource supply vulnerabilities (shortages of ingredients to make tech items), massive incidents of data fraud or theft, and the profileration of orbital debris (old satellites and other space junk).
Out of all the global risks to the planet most likely to happen, cyber attacks came in at number four.
The number one risk, according to the report, is the ‘severe income disparity’ (the gap between the haves and have nots). Second most likely risk was ‘chronic fiscal imbalances’ (such as sovereign debt crisis hitting the Euro zone) and third was ‘rising greenhouse emissions’. As already said, cyber attacks was fourth, and the fifth most likely to happen event is a ‘water supply crisis.’
The report also highlighted the fact that respondents have now increasingly shifted their concerns from environmental issues, and are now more concerned about socio-economic risks.
“It is clear that respondents’ concerns have shifted from environmental risks in 2011 to socioeconomic risks in 2012,” said the report, commenting on the evolving risk landscape facing the planet. “Economic risks have displaced environmental risks as those considered most likely. In 2011, the risks perceived as having the highest potential impact were economic and environmental; in 2012, they are economic and societal.”
Dark Side Of Connectivity
But the fact that a technology related risk has now made it into the ‘top five most likely risks facing the planet’, underlines how pervasive technology has become and how critical online systems are now regarded as legitimate targets by hackers.
Indeed, the WEF report labels the cyber attack issue as “the dark side of connectivity”.
“The impacts of crime, terrorism and war in the virtual world have yet to equal that of the physical world, but there is fear that this could change,” the report stated. “Hyperconnectivity is a reality. With over five billion mobile phones coupled with internet connectivity and cloud-based applications, daily life is more vulnerable to cyber threats and digital disruptions.”
“Online security is now considered a public good, implying an urgent need to encourage greater private sector engagement to reduce the vulnerability of key information technology systems,” it said. “While significant material and human resources were required in the past to exercise political or economic influence on a global scale, borders have become permeable as power shifts from the physical to the virtual world. A healthy digital space is needed to ensure stability in the world economy and balance of power.”
The report comes amid a general tightening up of cyber defences, both by private businesses and sovereign nations. Japan, for example, recently admitted it is creating its own cyberweapon arsenal to combat the increasing number of well organised cyber-attacks against national interests.
The British government is meanwhile boosting its cyber defences for the Olympic Games. This came after the government acknowledged last May that it had begun work on a “toolbox” of offensive cyber-weapons to complement its existing defensive capabilities.
The government has already committed £650 million to build stronger national cyber defences as Britain is under constant attack from hackers, and 1,000 potentially serious offensives were blocked in 2010 alone.
Last October, Major General Jonathan Shaw, the head of the Ministry of Defence’s cyber-security programme, said that hacking by foreign governments and corporations is regularly putting companies out of business, and costs the British economy £27 billion a year.