Cyber-Attacks Could Cause Global ‘Catastrophe’

Cyber-Attacks Could Cause Global ‘Catastrophe’

Jan 18

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CYBER-ATTACKS COULD CAUSE GLOBAL ‘CATASTROPHE’
The Telegraph
January 17, 2011

Original Link

Coordinated attacks on critical computer systems could create a perfect storm with “catastrophic” global effects, a study found today.

A succession of multiple cyber-attacks could “become a full-scale global shock” on a par with a pandemic and the collapse of the world financial system, the report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said.

Contingency plans to recover systems should be put in place and cybersecurity policies should “encompass the needs of all citizens and not just central government facilities”, the report said.

“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,” the report said.

“In that eventuality, ‘perfect storm’ conditions could exist.”

But the report, part of a wider OECD project on Future Global Shocks, found “few single foreseeable cyber-related events have the capacity to become a full-scale global shock”.

One such event may be triggered by “a very large-scale solar flare (bursts of energy from the sun) which physically destroys key communications components such as satellites, cellular base stations and switches”, the report said. The last major event was in 1859, and the next sunspot peak is expected in 2012-13.

Another could involve “a hitherto unknown fundamental flaw” in the technical building blocks of the internet “over which agreement for remedy could not be quickly reached”, it added.

And multiple coordinated attacks would be limited as the potential consequences are uncertain, meaning the attackers could damage their own interests.

The report’s co-author Professor Peter Sommer, of the London School of Economics, also said that lurid language and poor analysis were inhibiting government planning for cyber protection.

“We don’t help ourselves using ‘cyberwar’ to describe espionage or hacktivist blockading or defacing of websites, as recently seen in reaction to WikiLeaks,” said Professor Sommer.

“Nor is it helpful to group trivially avoidable incidents like routine viruses and frauds with determined attempts to disrupt critical national infrastructure.”

The report also found that while a “pure cyberwar” was unlikely, policy-makers must expect cyber attacks “in nearly all future wars as well as the skirmishes that precede them”.

Co-author Dr Ian Brown, of the Oxford internet Institute at the University of Oxford, added: “Cyberweaponry in all its forms will play a key role alongside more conventional and psychological attacks by nation states in future warfare.”

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