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Cyber attacks pose global risk to key infrastructure

bigstock illustration of virtual data a 125418569

Cyber attacks on infrastructure are one of the biggest risks facing the world this year, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) annual report.

Attempts to disrupt key infrastructure, such as the attack on Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 that shut down 30 substations, are becoming increasingly likely. Marsh global risk and digital president John Drzik said cyber attack is the “number one risk” and the “most likely to get worse in 2018” as the WEF Global Risks Report 2018 was published yesterday. He warned it was likely that the skill and sophistication of attacks would grow. 

Concerns about digital security jumped in this year’s report and cyber attacks and massive data fraud both ranked in the top five global risks by perceived likelihood. The world’s increasing interconnectivity through, for example, transport and energy infrastructure that is reliant on digital networks, intensifies vulnerability to attacks that could cause “radical and irreversible systemic shocks”.

Cyber attacks against businesses have almost doubled in five years with increasing financial impact. The report warns that infrastructure and strategic industrial sectors are being targeted and said “in a worst case scenario attackers could trigger a breakdown in the systems that keep societies functioning”.

“This generation enjoys unprecedented technological, scientific and financial resources, which we should use to chart a course towards a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive future. And yet this is perhaps the first generation to take the world to the brink of a systems breakdown,” the report warns.

It also says that the rise of automation is connected to unemployment saying, “for the foreseeable future, automation and digitalisation can be expected to push down on levels of employment and wages and contribute to increases in income and wealth at the top of distribution.”

The forum’s report is positive about global economic prospects and said the financial crisis has receded, however 59% of responses to a survey carried out for the report predicted increased risks this year as environmental risks have replaced economic concerns.

Environmental risks such as extreme weather events and natural disasters were perceived to be both likely and to have a high impact. The report cited the high frequency of Atlantic hurricanes last year which led to “serious disruption of critical infrastructure” and said wildfire burn in the US in November was at least 46% above the 10-year average. 

The Global Risks Report has been published by the WEF for the last five years and draws on around 1,000 submissions to the annual Global Risks Perceptions Survey.


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