The Web in inescapable today; everything from our smartphones and tablets to fitness trackers and home appliances can connect to the Internet. But could this deep connectivity be our downfall?
More than 60 percent of experts surveyed by Pew Research believe that by 2025, a major cyber attack will have caused widespread harm to a nation’s security and capacity to defend itself and its people.
“The Internet was not built for security, yet we have made it the backbone of virtually all private-sector and government operations, as well as communications,” Joel Brenner, former counsel to the National Security Agency, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed cited by the Pew study.
Despite progress in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities, a majority of Pew’s respondents said the future holds bigger and badder things for individuals and businesses.
“Cyber attacks will become a pillar of warfare and terrorism between now and 2025,” Joe Kochan, COO at US Ignite said, adding that digital warfare will become more prolific as countries’ infrastructures are transferred online.
Current threats, according to NASA program manager Mark Nall, include economic transactions, power grid, and air traffic control. But that list will expand to include self-driving cars, drones, and building infrastructure.
The battle has already begun, though, with the theft of trade secrets, development of cyber weapons, and even the hacking of smart toilets.
“The Internet of Things is just emerging,” Internet activist Tim Kambitsch said. “In the future, control of physical assets, not just information, will be open to cyber attack.”
Some folks, like Packet Clearing House executive director Bill Woodcock, are more optimistic.
“We’re at least 25 years into cyber attacks now, and although they get larger, and the economy and population becomes more dependent upon the resources that are vulnerable to them, they still don’t have the effect on physical assets and infrastructure that doomsday-predictors have always worried they would,” he said. “I’m not sure that problem will get worse as people become more sophisticated. I think we’re already over that hump.”
Even if hackers have the means to deliver devastating attacks, they don’t have the motivation, MIT senior researcher David Clark said. And those who do have the motivation, like terrorist organizations, don’t actually have the skills.
There are certainly those with the capacity for both, like Russian hackers who this month were caught using a Microsoft Windows bug to spy on U.S. and European academic and government agencies, NATO, and the Ukrainian government.
Apple, meanwhile, recently acknowledged that its iCloud service was under attack in China—a month after a hacker posted dozens of nude celebrity photos, which appeared to have come from the actresses’ iPhones, and prompted concern about iCloud security.
For a look back, check out Pew’s first report about the future of digital warfare from 2005.