There is no mistaking the increasing severity of cyber threats: global ransomware contagion, hyperscale data theft and potentially destructive attacks on critical national infrastructure like financial systems and water and energy networks are today’s reality.

The World Economic Forum describes cyber attacks as the third most likely and sixth most impactful risk to the world in 2018. The (rather fascinating) results of its worldwide business research, published on Monday, show that cyber attacks have risen from eighth on businesses’ agenda to fifth.


 

Source: World Economic Forum


However, the global data obscures a complex and varied picture of conflicting regional risk factors. 

In most so-called developed economies, cyber attacks are rated as the biggest risk. This applies to the USA, UK, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Singapore and others. In these countries, key influencers across the media and beyond regularly pump warnings about the latest cyber incident to business leaders.

Cybersecurity concern is by no means limited to the above nations. Key emerging markets like India and Indonesia believe cyber attacks are their greatest threat. Countries that have faced debilitating attacks on their critical national infrastructure, like Estonia, and countries like the Netherlands, which have significant network and computing infrastructure that are harnessed by cyber criminals (for more on that, see our 2018 Global Threat Intelligence Report), also view cyber attacks as their biggest risk.

In other countries, attitudes contrast starkly. It is easy to forget the plethora of political, economic, social and environmental risks that compete for the mindshare of business and government leaders. No technological risk makes the top five in Turkey. Instead, financial crises, interstate conflict and terrorism comprise the top three (though of course it is worth noting that cyber attacks can play a role in all three of those). 

In other countries like Spain – which was battered by the financial crisis a decade ago and South Africa unemployment / underemployment remains the top concern. And lesser connectivity and gains for cyber criminals help to explain the higher levels of risk attached to non-technology issues in countries like Argentina.

As globalisation becomes an increasingly erratic and unpredictable ride, and regional and national differences threaten its advance, so these more local trends become more important. 

Political, economic, social and environmental factors are vastly impactful on the future of citizens and businesses. But we should not lose sight of the increasing impact of cyber threats and the effect that these have on the other four sets of factors.