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The cyber world: Predicting the unpredictable

This year in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum released its annual Global Risks Report, containing a section about ‘black swan’ events – the risks that are most difficult to predict.

It revealed that technology risks – and in particular, cyber security attacks - are set to continue to rise, in terms of both impact and frequency.

Financial gain, espionage and political propaganda are among the key motivators behind cyber attacks. In addition to the potential damage to brand integrity from loss of data or blackmail, the range and sophistication of attacks has placed cyber security high on the agenda for businesses and government. As a recent edition of BBC Panorama exposed, these attacks are all too easy to carry out – according to one young hacker, a ‘5-year-old’ could do it. Major British company websites were investigated, with only one from the sample being claimed difficult to hack.

This news hardly comes as a shock when attacks on businesses are already so numerous. For example, 2.5 million computer-related criminal offences were reported in the 12 months leading up to June 2015 in the UK alone. The perceived risk is also very high - according to theGlobal Risk Report, business leaders identified cyber attack as the top business risk in no fewer than eight countries, including the US, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Singapore. This global viewpoint certainly puts things into perspective.

With patchy collaboration between countries and a lack of global governance, criminal entities have enthusiastically exploited technology as a lucrative and effective tool. Knowing that penalties can be low and evading capture relatively easy, criminals are targeting tech for personal and financial gain. ISIL is a prime example of this new age threat, where technology is used for secure communication through bespoke networks and as a weapon - for example the alleged ISIL hack on Tsinghua University in China.

The Beginning of a Difficult Journey

As a global community we are at the beginning of a difficult journey featuring a gamut of evolving threats that pose a real danger to the established world economic status quo. The World Economic Forum suggests we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will transform the way we live, work and interact. This ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is characterised by a combination of technologies that are blurring the line between physical, digital and biological spheres.

With this is mind, humanity and technology will be increasingly interlinked - understanding how to protect ourselves from cyber crime as individual countries or individual companies will no longer be enough. A more holistic approach to cyber security will be necessary in order to protect and make the most of our widely connected world.

Keeping data secure becomes only more difficult with an increasingly mobile and connected workforce. In the future, we could begin to see sophisticated attacks that initially focus on a connected home appliance, but are in fact designed to access the mobile device linked to it, leading in turn to the overall objective: attacks on the corporate network of the device owner.

A collective response will require more appropriate resources, including the most important resource of all: people. Sufficiently skilled security staff will be vital.

GCHQ has recognised this fact with the announcement of its Cyber Summer Schools scheme to train the next generation of security experts, as the demand for expertise continues to rise.

Steve Bianciardi, Solution Architect Manager and Kevin Linsell, Director, Strategy & Architecture at Adapt

Image source: Shutterstock/lolloj