Back in 2000, an Australian disgruntled plant working hacked into a computer, released volumes of raw sewage from a treatment plant that flooding public areas and into a Hyatt Hotel. The system was, at least for a short time, unstoppable. He was convicted and served 2 years in prison. This was a rather nasty and smelly cyber attack that cost no lives.
But there are growing concerns that one of three of the most feared attacks could come to an economy near you. The first would be a physical attack that shuts down parts of critical services. The next would be a financial attack that gains momentum and could lead to run away markets or bank runs. Finally, there could be an attack on large amounts of private data that in the end, damages the trust in government and major public institutions. Just imagine an attack, that prevents planes from flying or trains running, perhaps even shutting down the subway system at noon – how would people get home that day?
In Estonia in 2007 there was an attack on the telecommunications network, a cyber attack that was triggered by a dispute with Russia over a military statue. This attack was so damaging, that it impacted a decision to move the NATO Cyber Security organization to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. I guess this type of attack cannot happen twice.
During one of the coldest winters in recent history, in 2015, the Ukrainian power grid was shut down just two days before Christmas. Over 250,000 residents were left without power for hours – but workers were able to reboot the system later in the day. Again, Russia seems to be behind this attack.
But the knock on effect carries more risk than most people understand. If clean water is stopped for days or weeks, this has implications for a city and its residents. But it also prevents manufacturers who rely on clean water for food processing and drugs. Water is not only necessary for humans, it is necessary for other goods that we need in our lives. And do not forget the financial “contagion” that could damage markets and even economic activity in a major center like London, New York or Tokyo. Imagine a collapse in global finance, with rioting in the streets weeks after.
The increasing fear of cyber attacks also reaches data changes. Imagine an attack that changes the size of bank loans, equity positions held in financial institutions or even the names of those who own the accounts in question. Your account could belong to someone else after an attack. This is scary especially for retired workers who might suddenly learn that their pensions are just gone one day and cashed out by some else on the next day.
Cyber wars will likely take place and the types of attacks could be unimaginable.