WEF: Cyber Attacks are the Third Greatest Threat to the World
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WEF: Cyber Attacks are the Third Greatest Threat to the World

The World Economic Forum ranks cyber attacks third behind extreme weather and natural disasters.

Across the world, we’ve never been more connected to the internet. Our devices, our infrastructure – everything – is connected. And it’s because of this that the threat of cyber attacks and cybercrime is growing. Growing so much, in fact, that the World Economic Forum now lists “Cyber Attacks” as the third biggest threat to mankind.

If this were a trailer, I’d see that movie. Slap Dwayne Johnson and Jeff Goldblum in it for good measure. Boom. Summer blockbuster.

Unfortunately, this is real life. And according to the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2018, cyber attacks and cyber warfare sit right behind extreme weather events and natural disasters in terms of what’s likely to cause the most disruption in the next five years.

The World Economic Forum is a Swiss-based international organization concerned with improving the state of the world by “engaging business political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

Among the chief concerns listed by the WEF’s report is Ransomware, a particularly dangerous type of malware that encrypts an entire system and demands ransom in return for a key to decrypt it with. 64% of all phishing emails sent during 2017 contained ransomware. And much like the with the 2017 report, the Internet of Things is also seen as a major vulnerability, especially in light of the lack of security currently being built into most devices by their vendors.

“Cybercriminals have an exponentially increasing number of potential targets, because the use of cloud services continues to accelerate and the Internet of Things is expected to expand from an estimated 8.4 billion devices in 2017 to a projected 20.4 billion in 2020… What would once have been considered large-scale cyberattacks are now becoming normal.”

The report also cites a pair of major attacks from 2017 to highlight the dangers posed by cyber attacks. Petya cost organizations nearly $300-million while WannaCry was felt in over 150 countries, crippling infrastructure in some places.

These are mild compared to what could occur if cybercriminals decided to aim higher. “In a worst-case scenario, attackers could trigger a breakdown in the systems that keep societies functioning,” says the report.

What would that look like?

Think about something as simple as GPS. How many applications and systems are completely reliant upon GPS? What would happen if someone managed to knock that out? We’re not just talking your iPhone would stop giving you good directions, there are entire transit systems that would go haywire, air traffic would grind to a halt, who knows what else would break or go offline. Again, I’d watch that movie, but this is real life and at no point is The Rock going to show up in a helicopter to save everyone.

These are real threats.

“Geopolitical friction is contributing to a surge in the scale and sophistication of cyber attacks. At the same time cyber exposure is growing as firms are becoming more dependent on technology,” said John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at Marsh. “While cyber risk management is improving, business and government need to invest far more in resilience efforts if we are to prevent the same bulging ‘protection’ gap between economic and insured losses that we see for natural catastrophes.”

So take solace: if don’t perish in a great storm or get swallowed up by the Earth, the computers will get you.


Patrick Nohe

Patrick started his career as a beat reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald before moving into the cybersecurity industry a few years ago. Patrick covers encryption, hashing, browser UI/UX and general cyber security in a way that’s relatable for everyone.