The term "Black Swan" was popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable." It refers to events that are rare, have a significant impact, and are often unpredictable. Let's consider how it would work in cyberspace.
In the book, Taleb references the attacks on September 11th, 2001 as an event that forever changed how the world traveled and addresses potential terrorist threats. In recent years, the 2008 global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are examples of Black Swan events that have shaped our world. I touched on this topic earlier as it black swan event relates to cybersecurity.
As we move into the future, one of the likely candidates for the next Black Swan event is a cyber-physical event. This refers to a disruption caused by a cyber attack on critical infrastructure, such as the electrical grid, transportation systems, or financial systems, which could compromise services and exploit either known or unknown vulnerabilities.
The increasing reliance on technology and the interconnectedness of systems make them vulnerable to cyber-attacks, increasing public exposure and expanding the attack surface. If a critical infrastructure is compromised, it can have a widespread impact on society, potentially causing widespread damage, disrupting economies, and affecting millions of people.
For example, a cyber attack on the electrical grid could cause widespread power outages, potentially leading to a cascading failure of other critical infrastructure. Similarly, a cyber attack on transportation systems could cause widespread disruptions, with trains and airplanes unable to function, leading to significant economic and social consequences.
Large scale impact of Black Swan event
I have touched on the subject of major disruptions in the cyber attack sector recently. In other blog postings, I spoke of the need to focus on how the massive increase in remote access to networks opens up organizations to an increase in cyber attacks. Following that, I wrote about multiple ransomware attacks on academic institutions, all within days of each other. More recently that I referenced a study presented at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, stating that if cybersecurity attack revenue was a country, it would be the world’s third largest economy.
Despite all of this, we still have not witnessed a cybersecurity related Black Swan event. Potential black swan events in cybersecurity include a widespread zero-day exploit causing massive operational disruption, catastrophic encryption failure compromising sensitive data, internet infrastructure disruption impacting global communication, and supply chain compromise embedding malicious code or backdoors on a large scale.
These scenarios would pose major challenges to information security and digital infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of preparedness for unexpected events. Many countries were caught off guard by the sudden spread of the virus, and the resulting shortage of personal protective equipment and hospital beds showed the need for better planning and preparation. A black swan scenario could also lead to a physical denial of critical services.
Building up resiliency
To prepare for a potential cyber-physical event, it is essential to have robust cyber security measures in place, to train and educate people on how to respond in the event of a cyber attack, to really understandd the attack surface of the organization, and to invest in resilience. This means investing in technology and infrastructure, developing contingency plans, and preparing for the worst-case scenarios.
In conclusion, while the next Black Swan event is impossible to predict, the potential impact of a cyber-physical event is significant and cannot be ignored. By being proactive, investing in resilience, and having contingency plans in place, we can minimize the impact of such events and ensure that we are better prepared for the future.
However, the question remains, will we pick up the pace now, or simply react as needed?
I’m not really a betting man, but you can guess what I would bet on.