Cyber crime: A “Top Four Global Risk” For 2018

Cyber crime has been ranked as one of the four most prominent risks the world faces in 2018, in the annual Global Risks Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Placing cyber security breaches alongside “environmental degradation”, “economic strains” and “geopolitical tensions” as a “systemic challenge” threatening global growth and security, the report states that “cyber defences are being tested” by an intensification of the threat posed by cyber criminals over the last twelve months. Cyber attacks and “massive data fraud” were each individually cited as amongst the top five global risks by respondents to the WEF research.

The report highlights the fact that businesses are facing an ever-greater level of cyber threat, with the number of breaches reported by businesses doubling in only five years: 68 breaches per business were recorded in 2012, but this figure rose to 130 per business last year. This development has been driven in part by a resurgence of malware products and services available over the dark web: in 2016, the report states, “357 million new malware variants were released and ‘banking trojans’ designed to steal account login details could be purchased for as little as $500”.

Another driver behind the increased scale of the cyber threat facing businesses is the growing reliance upon digital channels of communication, cloud services, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The growth in the IoT in particular (with some 8.4 billion connected devices last year growing to an astonishing 20.4 billion in 2020) is creating new opportunities for cyber criminals and, consequently, new areas of risk for organisations struggling to keep up with the rapidly evolving threat environment with limited (often shrinking) security budgets.

The overall cost of attacks is on the up too, according to the WEF report, which highlights a 2017 study of 254 companies internationally showing that the cost of responding to cyber attacks now totals £11.7 million per company (up 27.4% from the previous year). the total cost of cyber crime to the global private sector is estimated to exceed $8 trillion over the next five years.

For law firms, these figures demonstrate the ongoing need to stay abreast of the cyber security threat in terms both of firms’ own information security structures and policies, and of clients’ concerns, responsibilities and liabilities. Consumers are desperate for assurance that they can trust firms with their data and that their partners and providers are doing all they can to counter the growing threat posed by cyber criminals; solicitors must be able to demonstrate that they are delivering on this front, whilst also working with clients to ensure the legal aspects of their cyber defence strategies are as watertight as possible.