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Driver of Change: Cyber Threats

According to numerous studies, cyberattacks and cybercrime are on the rise globally. So are financial investments, policy efforts and other means to combat them. And as our economies, infrastructure, societies, and lives becomes increasingly digital and Internet connected in the future, the consequences of vulnerabilities may be much more significant.

Overall, participants agreed that the growing number, impact, and spread of cyberattacks and cybercrime will increasingly shape the narrative around the Internet. Yet many raised significant uncertainties as to how society, technology, government, and business may respond and how those responses will impact the future. 

For example, some question whether individuals in the future may believe the risks of the Internet outweigh the benefits, and pull back from use of the Internet due to a lack of trust and confidence. Others speculate, however, that the public may become willing to give up personal liberty for greater security, resulting in a very different future.

Government responses to the issues will clearly shape landscape in 10 years time, especially as the Internet becomes more entwined with infrastructure. “As soon as the electrical grid is attacked or a train derails, regulators and lawmakers will act,” remarked one participant. Many are uncertain, however, as to the extent governments may be willing to take drastic actions in response to threats, such as implementing stifling Internet controls and shutdowns, increasing surveillance, and limiting technology use, such as encryption. 

Furthermore, particularly as the Internet converges with the physical world and infrastructure, the threat of highly destructive cyber-warfare will also increase. Many stakeholders expressed concern not only about the potential for cyber-warfare conducted by nation-states, but also by independent political movements and private actors. In addition to the direct damage done by attacks themselves, the government and public responses to such attacks could be equally consequential.

At the same time, however, some participants believe technical advances may stem the impact cyberattacks and cybercrime. As one technologist noted, “the negative trend is the increase in cybercriminal activity. The positive trend is our ability to build more kinds of devices and protocols that will make it harder.” At the same time, however, the growing scale and complexities of the Internet, combined with its openness, and the ease and lost cost in which attacks can be launched make the challenge formidable for the future.

As such, the direct impact of cyberattacks and cybercrime themselves, as well as potential responses to them, make them a formidable force that will shape the future of the Internet.

Key Challenges and Uncertainties Raised by our Community 

  • Increase in number, impact, and spread of cyberattacks and cybercrime.
  • Government/political involvement in cyberattacks, including cyberconflict.
  • Future ability to effectively protect against cyberattacks or fight cybercrime.
  • Growing economic market for cybercrime, data theft, and cyberattacks.
  • Fundamental lost off trust in the Internet by society, government, business, and individuals; perception that risks outweigh the benefits.
  • Increasing stakes of vulnerability of the Internet as it becomes more entwined with physical infrastructure.
  • Potential for restrictions on the Internet and fragmentation due to government reactions against cyberattacks and cybercrime.
  • Growing potential of highly destructive cyber-warfare conducted by nation-states and/or private actors.

Questions from our Community:

  • How will governments and society respond in the future if catastrophic economic, social, or national security events occur due to cyberattacks?
  • To what extent might a growth in cyberattacks and cybercrime contribute to a loss in trust of in the Internet and a perception that Internet risks outweigh the benefits?
  • Will the fundamental Internet attribute of openness prove to be its Achilles Heel given the growing wake of cyberattacks and cybercrime?