The Perfect CyberStorm

Attacks on computer systems could potentially cause a catastrophe of global dimensions, although its effects could only be unmitigated if those attacks were happening at the very same time that other type of disasters were taking place as well, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Such a scenario would involve for example a successful attack on one of the technical protocols that the Internet depends on, combined with a solar flare that would destroy key components used for communications, such as satellites.

The report titled “Reducing Systemic Cybersecurity Risk” is part of a broader OECD project examining possible apocalyptic scenarios on “The ‘Future Global Shocks“. It was written by Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics, and Dr Ian Brown of Oxford University, and it concludes stating that under such conditions, that combination of factors could result in a “perfect (cyber)storm.”

“Few single foreseeable cyber-related events have the capacity to propagate onwards and become a full-scale ‘global shock’. What should concern policy makers are combinations of events – two different cyber events occurring at the same time, or a cyber event taking place during some other form of disaster or attack. In that eventuality, perfect storm conditions could exist”, the report reads.

The OECD reports predicts that cyber attacks could be ubiquitous in future wars, and conducted almost exclusively between computers, leading to a series of side effects very difficult to predict.

“In nearly all future wars as well as the skirmishes that precede them policymakers must expect the use of cyber weaponry as a disruptor or force multiplier, deployed in conjunction with more conventional kinetic weaponry. Cyber weaponry of many degrees of force will also be increasingly deployed and with increasing effect by ideological activists of all persuasions and interests”, the report concludes.

All over the world governments are emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity. The United States for example, is preparing for a cyber war and have created their own cibermilitar command. The United Kingdom has acknowledged cyber attacks as one of the major external threats and announced that it will be spending 650 million pounds in preventive measures.

Dr Ian Brown said: “We think that a largely military approach to cyber security is a mistake. Most targets in the critical national infrastructure of communications, energy, finance, food, government, health, transport and water are in the private sector. Because it is often difficult to be certain who is attacking you from cyberspace, defence by deterrence does not work.”

However, Brown admitted that the prospect of a “cyberattack” that could inflict a large amount of destruction was “unlikely” because many critical systems were well protected with countermeasures that could backfire on the attackers.