Introduction

The World economic forum released its annual Global risk report prior to 2017 WEF meeting at Davos, Switzerland. The report highlights the risks emanating from AI, Cyber espionage and Internet of things, and focuses on the rise of cyber dependency due to increasing digital interconnection of people, things and organizations.

As we stand at the beginning of 2017, it is clear that the world is in the midst of a deep technological transformation. Technologies which were developed and perfected during the first 2 decades of the millennia are now being integrated in ways which were not possible until very recently. These new “fields” rely on proven technologies such as mobile communication, Storage, processing, and software to create entire new uses and industries. Enter the “Internet of Things”, Artificial intelligence and Blockchain- all leveraging existing tech in new ways and opening a world of new business cases and utilities.

(c) Photo Credit – World Economic Forum. All rights reserved.

Main risks emanating from cyber dependency

But rapid advancements in technology always bear new, unforeseen risks. This is surely the case with anything related to cyberspace, where the fast movement towards digitizing certain aspects of modern lives resulted in massive vulnerability to our privacy, savings and intellectual property. But the recent trends highlighted by the report show a dangerous escalation- many new technologies now fuse physical and domains and thus represent greater risk to businesses and people alike.

 

  1. AI
    Investments in Artificial intelligence have boomed in the last couple of years- Start-ups specializing in AI applications received US$2.4 billion in venture capital funding globally in 2015 and more than US$1.5 billion in the first half of 2016.2. This proves that the industry believes in the and for a good reason- By providing new information and improving decision-making through data-driven strategies, AI could potentially help to solve some of the complex global challenges of the 21st century. But such promise does not come without inherent risk- not just the Sci-fi killer robots of “Westworld”, but seemingly benign machines which will take life or death decisions for us. Peter Thiel’s (knows a thing or two about algorithms) launched project OpenAI (https://openai.com/about/) with and explicit aims to curb this growing threat and invoke discussions about required regulation and supervision of such technologies.
  2. Interconnectivity
    Interconnectivity allows the “Internet of things” to exist. But as more and more physical infrastructure becomes connected and interdependent, so does the the possibility for systemic failures – whether from intentional cyberattacks or accidental software.  It is sufficient to look at the recent DDoS Attack that used numerous connected devices to launch a massive attack which interfered with internet infrastructure on the US East coast, causing downtime on multiple sites and services. Such attacks could be aimed at other types of infrastructure- from electricity to mobility and cause greater damage, both physically and commercially.
  3. Cyber threats exacerbates political instability
    As demonstrated by the DNC hack (which by now is blamed on Russia), and the recent Ukraine power outage due to cyber attack show how cyber attacks can be used for political and diplomatic means. It is not unlikely that the severity and frequency of such attacks will intensify in the coming years, and that additional actors (such as terror and hacktivist groups) will also partake in these activities. It is also possible that such actors will utilize the vulnerabilities described in previous articles ( AI and interconnectivity ) to exaggerate the impact of attacks.

Summary

Given the new risks which we’re all exposed to, it’s not surprising that many responders rate cyber threats as one of the top threats, both in terms of likelihood and impact.

It is crucial that global leadership will acknowledge this and take actions to mitigate this growing risk. If a cyber-storm is indeed inevitable, the world must be prepared through improved international regulation and coordination.