DAVOS 2021: IT experts warn the world is vulnerable to a cyber-pandemic

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2 min read
A student, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, uses a computer at a lab room at the "1337" information technology training centre in Morocco's central city of Khouribga on November 17, 2020. - With its rows of sleek computers and ultra-modern study methods, Morocco's 1337 campus is a dream come true for budding geeks, in a country where IT skills are in high demand. Conceived as a paradise for coders, the centre offers project-based training on programming, innovation and building IT systems. Tuition is free and students largely create their own curricula. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)
The 1337 coding school in Morocco as IT experts warn the world needs to be better prepared for cyber-attacks. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

Leading IT experts have warned much of the world is not prepared for major cyber attacks, risking severe economic disruption.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has compared the risks to the coronavirus crisis, organising a panel event on “averting a cyber pandemic” at its virtual Davos Agenda summit of global leaders this week.

“I don’t know if I would call it a cyber pandemic because it doesn’t stop our life like the biological pandemic that we have. But were definitely under massive attack every day from multiple sources,” said panelist Gil Shwed, CEO of US-Israeli IT security company Check Point Software Technologies (CHKP), on Thursday.

“On the one hand we’re seeing these attacks are quite successful; on the other hand we are fighting them, and it doesn’t stop the entire economy at that moment. But what we know is that can happen, that can turn into a cyber pandemic like the biological pandemic.”

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Shwed said unlike healthcare staff and systems tackling the current pandemic, or the police and defence forces responding to other attacks, cyber attacks meant “computers defending against other computers.”

“Their speed is something human beings cannot react to,” he added. “What the world still doesn’t have is the infrastructure to protect itself in real time.”

He said the latest “fifth generation” of cyber attacks were hard to detect, saying they were “like the coronavirus, but with every attack a new mutation.”

Many organisations were using “third generation” anti-virus technology that was likely not enough to defend themselves, according to Schwed.

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Panellist Clara Tsao, a cybersecurity expert and former chief technology officer in the US government's homeland security department, also said many companies, particularly smaller ones, were not “adequately prepared” for threats.

She noted many people were working from home during the pandemic, using insecure networks shared with family members.

Like the pandemic, computer viruses target the most vulnerable groups, she said, with older people more likely to be the victim of scams or clickbait content.

“We have to think about vulnerable groups in similar ways,” she said.

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