Cyberthreat a worldwide risk?
[and tips on navigating the threat]

The 15th edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report is out. Alongside recognizing the economic, environmental, geopolitical, and societal risks, the report also emphasizes on technological risks in the form of cyberattacks that face us in 2020, more intense and complicated than ever before.

The Global Risk Report 2020 talks about the “Wild Wide Web” and its associated risks. There is a lack of global technology governance systems and frameworks. In that way, the global cyberspace is fragmented with cybersecurity blind spots.

Let’s consider how differing technological standards hinder economic growth and further divide societies.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Tech Advancements

Here are the four key technologies as part of the fourth industrial revolution and their projected growth through 2025.

  • Cloud computing – USD 623 billion
  • Autonomous cars – USD 416 billion
  • Precision medicine – USD 82 billion
  • Drones – USD 52 billion

The next wave of 4IR technologies are about to dramatically change societies and economies. These smart technologies have a huge potential in improving human health and life on this planet.

However, cybersecurity is one of the many unintended consequences these advancements bring along. WEF terms cybersecurity the second most concerning risk for doing a global business over the next decade.

5G networks, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing have created their own threats that will emerge in the times to come.

Digital Innovation and its Dangers


The digital nature of up and coming technologies makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks in a variety of forms. Right from ransomware attacks to data theft to overtaking of systems with large-scale fatal effects.

Operational technologies pose a significant risk because cyberattacks could cause traditional impacts when technology is extended into the real world. It’s worrying that security-by-design principles that integrate security into the core of a software piece are still secondary to getting a product to the market sooner rather than later.

Cyberattacks on critical infrastructure such as energy, healthcare, and transportation are increasing and are rated a top risk. Organized cybercrime is also proliferating and their detection and prosecution rate is as low as 0.05 percent in the US.

If anything, technologies such as the Internet of Things are only increasing the surface area for attackers to leverage. Already, 21 billion IoT devices exist worldwide and will double by 2025. IoT attacks increased by over 300 percent in the first half of 2019, while the same year in September, IoTs were used to bring down Wikipedia through a classic DDoS attack.

Cybercrime as a service is also an expanding avenue for attackers with tools on the Darknet becoming more accessible and affordable.

All of these add to suggest that businesses need a more comprehensive plan to take care of their digital assets this year and forward.

Vulnerable data

All 4IR technologies work on data. This makes data privacy a gigantic challenge. IT devices also collect sensitive and personal information from individuals, companies, states, right from personal medical records to information critical in terms of national security.

The data brokering market is worth USD 200 billion a year comprising of aggregating, selling, copying, and searching data for commercial uses. Data theft on a large scale could lead to massive manipulation of collective human behavior, leading to psychological and physical harm.

Cloud computing promises a lot of benefits in terms of round-the-clock availability, reliability, and more. But with increasingly more data hosted on the cloud comes the challenge to secure personal information from the gazillion potential security risks.

AI and 5G

We have not yet known the fullest potential of Artificial Intelligence. But, we also have not yet know the full risks associated with the technology. We know a few- such as manipulating results and sentiment through fake news and “deep fakes”.

Other, more massive risks are yet to be unearthed in areas, say brain-computer interfaces and hyper-automation with robotics and AI.

All 4IR technologies rely on high-speed and high-performance digital infrastructure, which 5G promises. While 5G infrastructure can be built reusing some part of 4G, significant shortfalls in capacity are expected in 2020 and later in some countries.

In more developed countries, the challenge is not only to build a modernized infrastructure to support 5G but to also overcome dependence on legacy systems. Introducing safe, reliable, and improved systems into the current capabilities is a key factor that will determine how soon we can begin to leverage 5G.

Cybersecurity Risks Creep into all Domains

The effect of changes and shifts in the cyberspace can be felt as tremors across the board.

Geopolitical risks

  • Digital innovation influences and gets impacted by geopolitical tension. This amplifies risk probabilities and reduces the possibility of cooperation.
  • The lack of a global governance framework increases private business’ influence on standard-setting, foreign collaboration in national critical infrastructure, acquisition of domestic technology, foreign offshoring of data, and technology capabilities transfer in exchange for access to foreign markets.
  • Global connectivity could be disrupted if nations continue to seek “cyber-sovereignty” and predominance in the tech market.
  • Technological advancements are happening at lightning speeds, with every country and business wanting to gain the first-mover advantage. This can shift the geopolitical balance by influencing standards, production chains, etc.
  • Cyberspace is quickly evolving into an extension of the military domain, triggering a digital arms race.

Economic risks

  • Fragmentation of cyberspace and technology systems could lead to economic consequences by negatively affecting businesses’ use of cloud and other tech services and pushing them to lower productivity by needing different production lines for different markets.

  • The loss of sustainability in keeping AI-powered structures such as data centers up and running is significant. The need to adapt to different products for different markets might well increase the negative environmental footprint of any industry.

  • Newer, non-regulated digital currencies could undermine international cooperation against money laundering. This could threaten the financial stability of any nation.

Societal risks

  • The differential speed of tech innovation and advancement around the world could widen the digital divide and wealth gap that exists today. This would make it harder for those left behind to catch up, such as in Africa, ASEAN, and Latin America. The wealth gap could expand within countries, affecting low-skilled workers and women the worst in some countries.

  • Given the awareness about biased algorithms and cyberbullying, we need to assess the question of ethics, especially with AI, and see that it doesn’t equate to negative consequences for under-represented communities.

What Next?

Global leaders, instead of IT departments, need to take charge of cybersecurity given the increasing complexity and sophistication of cyberattacks.

Here are a few first steps:

  • Gain more understanding of your org’s cybersecurity risks.
  • Rethink organizational structures and governance to break down silos and enable a robust cybersecurity posture.
  • Develop holistic response and recovery plans with real technical efficient solutions.

Talk to us to create cyber resilience for your business.