If you ask the typical businessperson to tell you about the impact of cyberattacks, you’ll probably get a stock answer. They’ll talk about the massive inconvenience and downtime caused when a virus hits their computers. Or mention the need to ask and pay for an expert to clean it up. Another concern might be the possibility that critical data might be lost, or at least corrupted in some way. Or perhaps there will be a nagging worry that commercially sensitive information has fallen into the wrong hands.
But what about the wider practical, potentially far more serious impacts of such attacks?
For instance, what happens when a threat is posed to human safety and health, directly as a consequence of hackers and cybercriminal activity? Time and again over the last decade this has happened. One of the most noted incidents where a cyber-attack resulted in physical damage occurred in 2008 in Iran. US government hackers allegedly hit Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facility by infiltrating the systems that controlled Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and spun them wildly out of control to destroy them or stopped them from spinning completely.
In Germany a few years ago a steel mill endured a cyberattack where attackers used booby-trapped emails to steal logins that gave them access to the mill’s control systems. This led to parts of the plant failing and meant a blast furnace could not be shut down as normal.
Until now, such serious impacts have been relatively rare, but unfortunately attacks like this are only becoming more common. The National Grid is regularly noted as a high profile target, whilst medical facilitates are all too regularly having to halt patient treatments due to ransomware.
With how connected all aspects of business are becoming, it is entirely possible that soon attacks like this will be the norm, rather than the exception…
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Opinion Blog By Bradley Maule-ffinch, Director of Strategy for Cyber Security Europe 2017