(pic: Petri Oeschger/Getty Images)
The rapid evolution of cyber and technological threats poses one of the most significant dangers to societies around the world, according to the Global Risks Report 2019 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) this morning.
There are significant blind spots when it comes to analysing cyber risks, the report says, and the vulnerability of networked societies is still not fully understood.
Overall, cyber ranked among the top five risks in the report, alongside the environment which dominated the other four top risks.
Other critical information security threats identified in the report included data theft and fraud, the breakdown of critical information infrastructure and the adverse consequences of technological advances such as artificial intelligence.
The report said that technology "continues to play a profound role in shaping the global risks landscape".
Large-scale cyber-attacks were ranked as number five in terms of likelihood, with massive data thefts and frauds coming fourth. The most likely threats were seen as environmental.
The impact of a large-scale cyber-attack was rated lower down the list, ranking seventh behind weapons of mass destruction and environmental risks.
But in terms of its interconnectedness, a measure of the complexity of systems, large-scale cyber-attacks were ranked second only to extreme weather events caused by failure of climate-change mitigation.
Around two-thirds of respondents said they expect fake news and identity theft to increase in 2019 and three-fifths expressed strong concerns about companies and governments trampling on individuals’ right to privacy.
Respondents were also deeply concerned about the discovery of severe flaws in the security architecture of hardware while also worrying about the use of artificial intelligence in constructing ever more devastating cyber-attacks.
"Last year also provided further evidence that cyber-attacks pose risks to critical infrastructure, prompting countries to strengthen their screening of cross-border partnerships on national security grounds," the report said.
John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at Marsh, said: "Persistent underfunding of critical infrastructure worldwide is hampering economic progress, leaving businesses and communities more vulnerable both to cyber-attacks and natural catastrophes, and failing to make the most of technological innovation. Allocating resources to infrastructure investment, in part through new incentives for public-private partnerships, is vital for building and strengthening the physical foundations and digital networks that will enable societies to grow and thrive."