Will Governmental Folly Now Allow for a Cyber Crisis?

CAMBRIDGE – When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, many shocked critics asked why markets, regulators, and financial experts failed to see it coming. Today, one might ask the same question about the global economy’s vulnerability to cyber-attack. Indeed, the parallels between financial crises and the threat of cyber meltdowns are striking.

Although the greatest cyber threat comes from rogue states with the capacity to develop extremely sophisticated computer viruses, risks can also come from anarchistic hackers and terrorists, or even from computer glitches compounded by natural catastrophe.

A few security experts have voiced great alarm, including, most recently, Jonathan Evans, the head of the British Security Service (MI5). By and large, however, few leaders are willing to compromise growth in the tech sector or the Internet in any significant way in the name of a threat that is so amorphous. Instead, they prefer to establish relatively innocuous working groups and task forces.

It is difficult to overstate the dependence of modern economies on large-scale computer systems. But imagine if one day a host of key communications satellites were incapacitated, or the databases of major financial systems were erased.