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Cyber Turns Catastrophic

Last month, the World Economic Forum predicted the threat of a catastrophic cyberattack. Will we see this come to fruition in the next two years as forecasted? I think the better question perhaps is this: Haven’t we already?

I could point to so many cyberattacks that have been catastrophic to the bottomline of a business and to our infrastructure. Perhaps we look no further than to the 2021 attack on Colonial Pipeline, which halted all pipeline operations to contain the attack. I would argue we have seen many catastrophic events already. This past year, the FBI reported ransomware topped the list of threats to critical infrastructure. No real surprise there. Will they continue to happen at an increasing rate? Most likely—and we need to be ready.

To help us prepare, let’s unpack the World Economic Forum report a bit further. The report—Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2023—launched in January at the Annual Meeting in Davos and is based on surveys, workshops, and interviews with more than 300 experts and C-suite executives. The report says a whopping 93% of cybersecurity experts and 86% of business leaders believe geopolitical instability is likely to lead to a catastrophic cyberattack in the next two years. All in all, it suggests geopolitics is reshaping the legal, regulatory, and technological environment.

This is leading half of the companies surveyed to say the current landscape is making them re-evaluate the countries in which their organization does business. How often have I said recently that companies are considering reshoring? This, in combination with supply-chain shortages, are driving this shift—and it is something I predicted decades ago in my book, Mending Manufacturing.

We are seeing again and again, food, ag, manufacturing, healthcare, and financial services become victims of ransomware attacks, and it’s not surprising many of these industries suffered some big losses this past year.

Looking at this latest WEF report, do we have more factors at play here, as we are facing the lack of skilled cyber experts. According to the report, roughly 34% of cybersecurity experts say they lack some skills in their team and roughly 14% are saying they lack critical skills. While these numbers span across all industries, if we zoom in there are some where this lack of critical skill is more pronounced.

Case in point: energy utilities. In fact, the report suggests energy utilities have a 25% gap in critical skills. These companies report they lack the necessary critical skills to protect their organizations’ operations. Think of it this way: one-fourth of utilities don’t have the skills needed to protect operations.

Are the hackers just waiting in the weeds looking to make their move for those that are the weakest link? If we look at the bright side of the equation, business leaders are now more aware of the problem that exists. However, we still are not adequately prepared to address the greater problem that continues to cost billions of losses every year—and we need to get prepared quick.

We need to improve our cyber resilience and we need the talent to be able to do this effectively. We need to fill that critical skills gap. Candidly, I am thinking we are too focused on all the wrong things and not putting our eye on the rights things at this moment. We need young minds and innovators to secure our infrastructure. It is a matter of national security. Yes, it is a matter of national security.

I do not believe organizations are really listening to how we need to get the future generation and who the worker is. If we want workers to make, build, grow, and secure our world, we need to do something about it soon—or our infrastructure will be left open to that next big more ransomware and even bigger catastrophic cyberattack.

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