Why we can't stick our heads in the sand about cyber terrorism

At 6pm the electricity across New York shuts down. The city is plunged into darkness. At 6.02 the skyline is lit up by four coordinated explosions at an axis across Manhattan. A few seconds later the power grid comes back up but as fire fighters rush to the scene, the water supply fails and their hoses are useless. As panic spreads, teams of suicide snipers rush the subway, while in 10 major hospitals all the equipment takes on a life of its own. The result would be instant, uncontrollable, pandemonium…

When I saw the headlines about the Brussels attack last month I was bracing myself for a cyber-component. I was relieved it wasn’t there. But I doubt we’ll be so lucky next time.

Cybercrime is raging everywhere. Organised criminals are running rampage. They have recently taken down hospitals in Australia, California and Germany. And while the motivation of these attacks may only have been money, the outcome was terror.

This is only set to worsen now everything is connected. Once someone gets in they have access to the whole lot. In a hospital that could be health records, equipment and literally people’s lives. And once all homes are smart… who knows. And that’s not to mention all the physical utilities that quietly make our lives runs smoothly.

As Carl Herberger, Vice President of Security at Radware wrote a statement after last year’s Paris attacks. “Life’s essentials; water, food production, refrigeration, heat, light could be disabled very quickly…”

At a recent Kaspersky event in London to promote its new cybersecurity solution for industrial systems, CEO Eugene Kaspersky, pointed out that although today’s criminals have become far more professional there have been very few politically motivated attacks. He listed six and estimated about 10 in total, with this year’s attack on the Ukrainian power grid probably proving the most prescient.

Because of this cyber terrorism is still not on most people’s radar yet. It is also very hard to imagine terror on the kind of scale that technological infiltration would allow.

And the really worrying part is although there is plenty of government regulation around about physical machinery there are no rules about technological infrastructure. Only last year planes were grounded at Paris Orly airport because the system ran on Windows 3.1.

Personally, I’m terrified about the prospect of a cyberattack. It could change the whole way we see the world and have more impact on ordinary people’s psychology (around the world) than 911. And the worst thing is not enough people are aware of the danger.


Further reading:

Paris attack: Will it take ‘cyber 911’ for people to see the risk?

Nov 5th analysis: What it would take to hack the White House


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