A cyberattack of devastating proportions is not a matter of if, but when, numerous security experts believe.
And the scale of it, one information security specialist said this week, will be such that it will have its own name — like Pearl Harbor or 9/11.
“The more I speak to people, the more they think that the next Pearl Harbor is going to be a cyberattack,” cybersecurity executive and professional hacker Tarah Wheeler told a panel audience during the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annual forum in Paris.
“I think that the most horrifying cybersecurity attack is going to have its own name and I think it’s going to involve something more terrifying than we’ve thought of yet.”
Critical infrastructure and industry
Wheeler is not alone in her apocalyptic outlook. Not a single report from technology companies and researchers in this field claims that the cyber threat environment is becoming less hostile or less significant.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risks Report 2018 names cyberattacks and cyber warfare as a top cause of disruption in the next five years, coming only after natural disasters and extreme weather events.
“In a worst-case scenario, attackers could trigger a breakdown in the systems that keep societies functioning,” the report said. Industry and critical infrastructure like power grids and water purification systems could be potential targets for hackers, whether they are small groups or state actors.
Retired Admiral James Stavridis, who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, echoed these warnings in a prior interview with CNBC: “We’re headed toward a cyber Pearl Harbor, and it is going to come at either the grid or the financial sector… we need to think about this cyberattack as a pandemic.”
Artificial intelligence-focused security firm BluVector reported in February that almost 40 percent of all industrial control systems and critical infrastructure faced a cyberattack at some point in the second half of 2017.