Are You Ready For A Cyber-Attack?

Cyber-attacks are on the increase as hackers use their criminal skills to cause harm on a massive scale. But can they be stopped?

Everyone is a target

Hackers who threaten blackmail and demand money are systematically targeting businesses, large and small. Public sector organisations like the NHS suffer too, as hackers are blind to the harm they do or where they do it. Even governments are exposed, as the growth of cyber incidents is a priority for national security services struggling to defend a growing digital world.

The fear of hacking is now a common agenda item in boardrooms and governments around the world, as the money-motivated incursions are indiscriminate in their choice of prey. The possibility of penetration is becoming the norm for an economy transitioning, all too fast, to virtual platforms and the invisibility of the cloud.

The attackers have the advantage in a game where technical skills and knowledge trump everything as they use their superior capabilities to defeat the innocent and the unprepared. Maverick hackers, new-age criminals and even rogue governments are all suspects and are all likely to continue to disrupt others for financial gain.

But current responses are inadequate and must shift from outrage and surprise to pragmatic investment in prevention as a matter of urgency. More worryingly, attacks are reaching a level of seriousness where they may trigger military responses from nervous or exposed governments. The mind-set of a regime tempted to respond in such a fashion is, however, grounded in the last century and must modernise to engage today’s more nuanced reality.

Prevention is the best cure

The best way to prevent a cyber-attack is to prepare and the best way to prepare is to develop a detailed defence plan. It may already be late but it’s not too late to take action, otherwise we will forever be victim rather than victor.

The potential scale of assault is immense and includes business, public services, infrastructure, military targets, politicians and even the democratic process as evident in recent elections. Defensive strategies are complicated because the internet has advanced technically as an interdependent and densely intertwined global rather than national network. And because everyone and every organisation is connected there are countless points of frailty open to those willing to profit.

If prevention is the aim there is much to do to make sure those who defend have the necessary skills and experience to outwit those who attack. Nevertheless, given the culture of the internet hackers will always operate as a natural and, at times, useful part of the cyber landscape.

So, the aim is not to fight to win in a traditional sense but to prevent, which requires armies of people with the motivation to deploy cyber-skills for the greater good.