Cyber War Apocalypse Highly Unlikely, Study Says

Dennis Faas's picture

An international report says that the term "cyber war" overstates the genuine security risks that national governments face in the online age. It goes on to note that officials need to plan for accidental incidents as well as attacks.

The report, from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, says that comparing online attacks to an armed military conflict exaggerates the potential effects. It also argues that a financial crisis or a health pandemic would also be much more serious than cyber attacks.

The key finding of the report is that most forms of attack against a country's computer systems would cause damage that could be fixed in a matter of hours and wouldn't lead to irreversible problems. (Source:

Wording of 'Attack' Difficult to Discern

Professor Peter Sommer, who wrote the study alongside Dr. Ian Brown, said the language used to describe online security could lead to confusion. He noted that the phrase "attack" could cover a wide range of activities, of different levels of sophistication and severity, meaning it was difficult to put statistics about "attack" levels into context.

According to the report, countries are unlikely to engage in a literal "cyber war." That's partly because the effects of such an attack are so unpredictable, and partly because countries prepared to engage in an extended series of hostile online tactics would almost certainly carry out more traditional forms of attack.

Solar Flares Considered Largest Threat

Ironically, the most harmful event for online security might be a freak accident rather than an intentional operation. The report noted that one of the most serious situations would be the highly unlikely case of a solar flare harming communications satellites. (Source:

The report mostly covered first world nations. Of course, those are the most likely countries to be attacked.

While the report makes an argument against the use of the term "cyber war," the Internet has, in fact, been the site for military aggression in the past. In 2008, Russia was linked to denial of service attacks that severely hampered the Georgian government's communications. It was an incident that took place shortly before Russia stepped up off-line military operations.

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