The Next 9/11 Will Be A Cyber Attack

The FBI has compared recent cyber attacks on US government and corporate entities to the same level of threat presented by the 9/11 terrorist attack. 

US Admiral James Stavridis,  ex- NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, has echoed this perspective in a recent TV interview. “We’re headed toward a cyber Pearl Harbor, and it is going to come at either the grid or the financial sector... we need to think about this cyber attack as a pandemic.”

Now, as tension in Ukraine grows, some security experts are saying that a cyber attack of devastating proportions is only a matter of time.

The rapid transformation from office-based activity to remote work prompted by the Coronavirus pandemic has demanded the adoption of robust cyber security protocols to mitigate the risk many organisations face from  malware and ransomware.

Pressure Points On Critical Infrastructure 

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report ranks cyber security failure among the greatest threats facing humanity within the next decade, saying “…attackers could trigger a breakdown in the systems that keep societies functioning.” Industry and critical infrastructure which need to be running continuously - such as nuclear power plants, banking operations, intensive care units in hospitals and Coronavirus vaccine distribution - could be potential targets for hackers, whether they are small groups or state actors. 

Concerns exist that nation-state actors will test the pressure points of critical infrastructure through hacks with the aim of sowing seeds of more chaos by disrupting the supply chains during future periods of geo-political conflict. At such times, targeting food and energy supplies of an adversary will be a classic strategy to begin with. 

Escalating Concerns

The hacking of the Colonial Pipeline controlling  45 percent of fuel in the Eastern US, led to panic buying of petrol by consumers which in turn escalated fuel prices on the entire Eastern coast.  Around the world, recent cyber attacks on critical infrastructure in Australia and Israel the vulnerabiltiy of some of the computer operated distribution networks upon which nations rely.  

These are various  scenarios that concern independent cyber security experts and they have three common characteristics: 

  • Physical attacks that shut off or damage some aspect of critical services.
  • Financial attacks that spin out of control and lead to bank runs. 
  • Disinformation via manipulating data and information in a way that undermines trust in critical national institutions.

Today, its not hard to imagine a scenario  in which a cyber attack could shut down basic services such as electricity or water supply, which can and will adversely affect millions of people. 

The Challenge Facing Policymakers

Political leaders all over the world are waking up to the serious threats posed by cyber warfare. Huawei's 5G technology is an example where companies all over the globe, policy makers and governments, especially of Denmark, India, Japan, and South Africa have raised issues about the geopolitical neutrality and the subsequent threat to sovereignty from private corporations involved within the cyber realm. 

Some countries have issued a complete ban on Huawei 5G communications equipment, although the Chinese the company continues to gains more ground by virtue of low pricing for its innovative technology 

Technology innovation is not likely to slow and indeed digital advances are likely to accelerate. Super-computing and quantum computing will push change ahead and enable even more powerful digital applications. Only by focusing on controlling technological advances will vulnerable nations be able to address the  problems of misinformation, personal privacy, cyber security and disinformation. 

WEF:     Brookings:      Economic Times:    Guardian:       CNBC:      Biometrica

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