OECD: ‘Cyberwar’ Overhyped

(HT: Schneier) Here’s a refreshingly careful report on cybersecurity from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s “Future Global Shocks” project. Notably: “The authors have concluded that very few single cyber-related events have the capacity to cause a global shock.” There will be no cyber-“The Day After.”

Here are a few cherry-picked top lines:

Catastrophic single cyber-related events could include: successful attack on one of the underlying technical protocols upon which the Internet depends, such as the Border Gateway Protocol which determines routing between Internet Service Providers and a very large-scale solar flare which physically destroys key communications components such as satellites, cellular base stations and switches. For the remainder of likely breaches of cybsersecurity such as malware, distributed denial of service, espionage, and the actions of criminals, recreational hackers and hacktivists, most events will be both relatively localised and short-term in impact.

The vast majority of attacks about which concern has been expressed apply only to Internet-connected computers. As a result, systems which are stand-alone or communicate over proprietary networks or are air-gapped from the Internet are safe from these. However these systems are still vulnerable to management carelessness and insider threats.

Analysis of cybsersecurity issues has been weakened by the lack of agreement on terminology and the use of exaggerated language. An “attack” or an “incident” can include anything from an easily-identified “phishing” attempt to obtain password details, a readily detected virus or a failed log-in to a highly sophisticated multi-stranded stealth onslaught. Rolling all these activities into a single statistic leads to grossly misleading conclusions. There is even greater confusion in the ways in which losses are estimated. Cyberespionage is not a “few keystrokes away from cyberwar”, it is one technical method of spying. A true cyberwar is an event with the characteristics of conventional war but fought exclusively in cyberspace.

The hyping of “cyber” threats—bordering on hucksterism—should stop. Many different actors have a good deal of work to do on securing computers, networks, and data. But there is no crisis, and the likelihood of any cybersecurity failure causing a crisis is extremely small.