On a slightly lighter note, it can also expose us to US President Donald Trump’s Twitter-shaped pearls of wisdom and make social media manifestly antisocial.
In a welcome move, Ireland South MEP Seán Kelly has called for a vigorous, common EU cybersecurity strategy to repel cyber-attacks against energy supplies, aviation, commercial sectors, and governments. Mr Kelly led data-protection negotiations for the European Parliament.
In attempting to calm nerves by saying there is “no need for undue concern”, he provides ample grounds for a level of concern that is justified: Regular reports of data breaches, malware, and online financial scams, and “more and more sophisticated plots”. He cites a warning from the deputy secretary general of the US that “vicious non-state groups” are using the internet to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and reminds us of the recent cyber-attack on a dozen US power plants, including one nuclear facility (Russian hackers may have been culpable), and reports that the European Aviation Safety Agency says aviation systems worldwide are subject to an average of 1,000 attacks a month.
Putting aside the threats to life and privacy posed by cybercrime, and the sheer inconvenience for passengers when an airline’s system is wiped out, the global economic cost of online crime in just one year, 2016, has been estimated at over $450bn (€380bn) by the 2017 Hiscox Cyber Readiness survey, which found that fewer than half of the businesses in the US, Britain, and Germany were prepared to deal with cyber-attacks.
Taking into account losses from destroyed data, fraud, theft of intellectual property, lost productivity, reputational harm, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, investigation, and system recovery, an analysis by Cybersecurity Ventures suggests the cost of cybercrime could reach $6tn by 2021.
And, of course, the growth of cybercrime will force an increase in spending on cybersecurity products and services. Global spending is expected to exceed $1tn cumulatively over the next five years.
Many of these forecasts are speculative, since many companies are reluctant to come clean when their systems are brought down or raided. Two exceptions this year have been the large consumer groups Reckitt Benckiser and Mondelez, which revealed their sales would be hit by a cyber-attack that spread outward from Ukraine and paralysed hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.
Mr Kelly rightly flags up the opportunity for Ireland — a hi-tech country with a skilled workforce, and home to the world’s biggest tech companies — to become a world leader in online security. There is, sadly, a gap in the market and a market in the gap that Ireland can serve.