By Johan Steyn, 31 May 2022
The source of many nightmares when I was a child was nuclear war. I imagined the bright flash on the horizon and planned how I would urge my sister and parents to jump in the swimming pool.
I believed that we would all be fine if we were underwater for a few seconds while the flames sped by overhead. At that age, I did not understand the true nature of such an attack. I could not grasp the concept of nuclear fallout.
My midnight anguish was a result of watching the 1983 postapocalyptic film The Day After. It depicted a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and left images of people being incinerated etched forever in my young mind.
Nuclear war has been a threat for many decades, but after the fall of the Soviet Union it seemed less likely. The topic is again front and centre now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Putin placing his nuclear forces on high alert.
What are the greatest threats to humankind now? The possibility of nuclear war is certainly one. Climate change is a top contender. The other is the trajectory of smart technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The global financial system and supply chain enjoy never before imagined efficiencies due to AI technologies, but our dependence on these systems is a significant risk. Hackers can cripple the financial markets and restrict our access to goods and services.
Warren Buffett, chair of Berkshire Hathaway, is reported to have told people attending his annual shareholders meeting in 2018 that a greater threat than nuclear war is that of cyberattacks.
Bloomberg recently reported on the annual study of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center. “After an unrelenting year of fighting off cyber threats, the financial services sector should expect more of the same or even worse, as nation-state hacking campaigns are expected to mirror geopolitical tensions and ransomware gangs retool to dodge increased scrutiny.”
According to the study, global tensions could fuel state and nationalist hacking activity. In light of recent software supply chain vulnerabilities, the group warned its members to be on the watch for nation-state interference in the products and services they consume.
The World Economic Forum’s report “Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2022" says that 84% of business leaders view cyber security as a priority. However, only 68% see it as a significant part of overall risk management. Two-thirds of leaders state that talent scarcity to fight cybercrime is a major concern.
In SA, we have lately witnessed major cyber security breaches reported at organisations such as Transnet, TransUnion and Dis-Chem. At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported on the frail state of the government’s cyber resilience. The personal data of a multitude of citizens were gained by hackers, and not even our president’s personal data was spared.
In a Business Day TV panel discussion this month, hosted by Michael Avery, we were joined by Anna Collard from KnowBe4 and Kerissa Varma from Vodacom. It is well worth watching the recording. The crux of the discussion was that defending against these threats cannot be solely by technological means. Every business should develop a culture of cyber security awareness across all levels of the organisation.