International tensions heighten cyber security risks for business

 
Nassos Stylianou
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The cyberspace is likely to become the new "political battleground" (Source: Getty)

Heightened geopolitical tensions are increasing the risk of cyber attacks, an international cyber security expert has warned.

As the the downing of MH17 and the ongoing hostilities in Gaza deepen global tensions, Malcolm Marshall, UK and global lead in KPMG’s cyber security practice, says that cyber attacks are rapidly becoming the new battleground of international political conflicts.

Marshall says that political disputes with a international dimension could have a profound impact on organisations' ability to conduct 'business as usual' and not enough focus is currently being placed on the potential dangers.

“Whilst attention is focused on the search for resolutions in the ‘corridors of power’, businesses need to be ready to defend themselves, as the cyberspace in which they operate increasingly becomes the new battleground,” he said.

“Cyber attacks are becoming part of international conflict and it seems that probing cyber attacks are likely to be the first phase in the hostile phase of future conflicts."

Over the last few years the international business community has witnessed a number of incidents where websites have been hacked with a view to giving political views widespread exposure. The Syrian Electronic Army, a group claiming to be supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's civil war, has hacked a long list of high profile companies like Skype, Forbes, The Washington Post and even took control of the official Twitter account of Barcelona Football Club.

The 'hacktivists' also claimed responsibility for gaining access to the Associated Press’s Twitter account to falsely post that the White House was attacked, an incident that send markets tumbling. Further to this, the New York Times last year reported that a group of Chinese hackers persistently attempted to attack the newspaper online for a period of four months, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees.

These incidents, as well as major online data security breaches that have affected companies like US retailer target and the attack on state oil company Saudi Aramco in 2012 are indicative of the impact cyber attacks can have, according to Marshall:

The well-worn phrase about who has their ‘finger on the button’ has taken on a new meaning and this is something that banks, financial institutions and global businesses need to consider. After all, the ability to disrupt electronic trade, divert funds, or overload IT systems so that transactions cannot be completed, can have an effect that goes far beyond the geographies where disputes are raging.

In the UK, the government unveiled a raft of new proposals part of its National Cyber Security Strategy aimed at addressing the increasing demand for cyber security skills necessary fort business.

But if businesses do not take proactive steps to protect themselves from the ever-growing cyber threats, then they chances that they inadvertently become embroiled in a wider political dispute will grow, Marshall warns.

“It doesn’t mean organisations should panic and ‘bunker down’. What it does mean is that, just as scenarios are planned to help deal with major physical security breaches, organisations need to put plans in place that recognise we now operate in a world without cyber borders," he said.

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