Cyber attacks will get much worse, experts believe

04/11/2014 07:01

Cyber attacks might be taking a toll now, but a survey of experts says things are likely to get even worse over the next decade.

A majority of cybersecurity experts surveyed in a poll see a likelihood of major damage from a cyber attack in the coming years.

From the 1600 experts polled, 61 per cent answered "yes" to the question: "By 2025, will a major cyber attack have caused widespread harm to a nation's security and capacity to defend itself and its people?"

"Widespread harm", the survey explained, would mean significant loss of life or property losses, damage, theft of tens of billions of dollars.

"There was considerable agreement among these experts that individuals could be more vulnerable and businesses could persistently be under attack," said Lee Rainie, a co-author of the report and director of the Pew Research Centre's Internet Project. "They said essential utilities are a vulnerable target and theft and economic disruptions could be substantial."

The remaining 39 per cent surveyed said major damage from a cyber attack could be avoided.

"Some confidently pointed out that the threat of counterattack might deter the worst," said Janna Anderson of Elon University's Imagining the Internet Centre, which conducted the study with Pew.

"And many used the Cold War as a metaphor, saying severe harm is unlikely due to the threat of mutually assured disruption. Some said cyber threats are being exaggerated by people who might profit most from creating an atmosphere of fear."

Some of the experts said the cyber threats are already here, or on the horizon. "A bellicose China might 'cyber invade' the military capabilities of Japan and South Korea as part of the conflict around the China sea, leading to the need to reconfigure their electronics, at huge cost," said Stowe Boyd, lead researcher for Gigaom Research. "Israel and the United States have already created the Stuxnet computer worm to damage Iran's nuclear refinement centrifuges."

The report comes a day after the top US cyber official said the country's military is looking to flex its muscles in cyberspace as a deterrent to hackers eyeing American targets.

The Pew survey is part of reports on the internet's 25th anniversary.