In its seventh edition, the World Economic Forum´s Global Risks Report features more refined risk descriptions and rigorous data analysis covering 50 global risks. It aims to improve public and private sector efforts to map, monitor, manage and mitigate global risks. It is also a “call to action” for the international community to improve current efforts at coordination and collaboration, as none of the global risks highlighted respects national boundaries.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2012 report, in fact, is based on a survey of 469 experts from industry, government, academia and civil society that examines 50 global risks across five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological.
As usual, technological category attracted my attention and I decided to analyze risks that are of greatest concern in the area of current and emerging technology.
The report lists 10 technological risks:
1. Critical systems failure: single-point system vulnerabilities trigger cascading failure of critical information infrastructure and networks.
2. Cyber-attacks: state-sponsored, state-affiliated, criminal or terrorist cyber attacks.
3. Failure of intellectual property regime: ineffective intellectual property protections undermine research and development, innovation and investment.
4. Massive digital misinformation: deliberately provocative, misleading or incomplete information disseminates rapidly and extensively with dangerous consequences.
5. Mineral resource supply vulnerability: growing dependence of industries on minerals that are not widely sourced with long extraction-to-market time-lag for new sources.
6. Massive incident of data fraud/ theft: criminal or wrongful exploitation of private data on an unprecedented scale.
7. Proliferation of orbital debris: Rapidly accumulating debris in high-traffic geocentric orbits jeopardizes critical satellite.
8. Unintended consequences of climate change mitigation: Rapidly accumulating debris in high-traffic geocentric orbits jeopardizes critical satellite infrastructure. Attempts at geoengineering or renewable energy development result in new complex challenges.
9. Unintended consequences of nanotechnology: The manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular level raises concerns on nanomaterial toxicity.
10. Unintended consequences of new life science technologies: Advances in genetics and synthetic biology produce unintended consequences, mishaps or are used as weapons.
Technological risks range from cyber attacks, highlighted as having the highest likelihood and a high impact, to critical systems failure having the highest impact and lower likelihood, and to the unintended consequences of nanotechnology, which has a lower impact and lower likelihood.
A very interesting point is that cyber-attacks risk, intimately connected to the critical systems failure risk, is ranked within the top 5 risks among 50 in terms of probability and the concern over this issue is very high.
Cyber threats come in three categories that are familiar to military strategists and intelligence analysts:
1. sabotage, in which the first critical point is that users may not realize when data has been maliciously, surreptitiously modified and make decisions based on the altered data (in the case of advanced military control systems, effects could be catastrophic), where, the second critical point, is that national critical infrastructures are increasingly connected to the Internet, often using bandwidth leased from private companies, outside of government protection and oversight;
2. espionage, in which sufficiently skilled hackers can steal vast quantities of information remotely, including highly sensitive corporate, political and military communications; and
3. subversion, in which the Internet can be used to spread false information as easily as true. This can be achieved by hacking websites or by simply designing misinformation that spreads virally. Denial-of-service attacks can prevent people from accessing data, most commonly by using “botnets” to drown the target in requests for data, which leaves no spare capacity to respond to legitimate users.
According to the report, some trends may be underlined.
1. Individuals, businesses and nation states are depending more and more heavily on data and systems in the virtual world. Thirty-five per cent of the global population is online, up from 8% just 10 years ago. The way we connect is also changing: at the end of 2011, about 470 million smartphones had been sold worldwide, and the number is projected to double by 2015;
2. The more significant shift lies in the rapid growth in “the internet of things” – the high-speed communications network composed of electronic devices rather than people. Currently there are five billion devices or “things” connected and remotely accessible through the internet, from cars, kitchen ovens and office copiers, to electrical grids, hospital beds, agricultural irrigation systems and water station pumps. The number of devices connected on the internet is expected to reach 31 billion in 2020;
3. Once an information link is created between a user’s electricity meter and the grid, there is a theoretical risk of a user being able to hack into the grid via their meter and sabotage an area’s electricity supply. Connectivity also allows for amplification: attacks that would have been isolated incidents in the physical world can achieve a cascading effect through connectivity;
4. Companies are increasingly aware of cyber threats but are not necessarily sure how to address them. Companies feel both more informed about cybercrimes, but less confident in their existing cyber security measures than ever before;
5. It is possible that the impact of cybercrimes on companies goes under-reported, as victims prefer not to disclose that their systems have been compromised. However, the fact that cybercrime is more frequently in the news suggests this is changing. There is a growing market for cyber risk insurance, covering risks ranging from computer security liability to business interruption, cybercrime and cyber extortion.
Read all the report from: