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Catastrophic Cyber Risks: Press Briefing Notes

Science Media Centre, London in April 2013

by Dr Sally Leivesley
Managing Director, Newrisk Limited (www.newrisk.com)
Advisor on catastrophic risk to companies and governments
Member of the Register of Security Engineers and Specialists, ICE

Catastrophic Cyber Risks:
Conflicts, crime and mischief are increasingly being played out in cyber space. There are inherent risks both through the growth in interconnectedness and to the controls of systems that store, transfer and develop knowledge through networks of electronic, computer-based and wireless systems.  Most significantly there are vulnerabilities within the language of security (encryption). A foreseeable end game is being played by nation states, organised groups and asymmetric non state entities to breach encryption and this will open systems to manipulation, interrogation and control. 


  1. International governance in the near term would be possible if an institution such as CERN, which was granted observer status to the UN General Assembly in 2012, had a role equivalent to the one played by the International Atomic Energy Agency in nuclear monitoring and global nuclear safety standards.  This would help to establish agreements for e-border management, international standards and oversight and there could be a National Security Council response if the security of states was threatened through cyber space.
  2. A fast track reduction of systemic risk would also be assisted by the formation of an international strategic scientific ‘cyber-hub’ populated by scientists from within national space agencies and academic institutions along with operational scientists from critical national infrastructure industry sectors. A joined-up virtual scientific hub can pool capacity and deliver fast-track systemic risk reduction through innovative strategic solutions, especially conceptual work on stabilisation for when systems become unreliable through any causal pathway.  Research off-line as well as a real-time accessibility for nations to a scientific cyber-hub could accelerate solutions and balance the risk of systems failures in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on operating in cyber space.
  3. In the long term, a ‘post-encryption society’ is required to compensate for breaches in encryption. This is a challenge for long term academic research into novel systems for security and for a secure means of transmission that would generate stability for systems linked to cyber space. It would also provide the public with communications and personal data that could remain private. The utility of the current system would remain but as a legacy system for non-critical structures, data and communications traffic. 

Footnotes for Clarification:


Sally Leivesley



  • Security 2018
  • Cyber!

Walk-in attacks by terrorists with guns, improvised explosive devices, knives & other weapons are happening in 2018. France has started to suffer significant threats from attacks directed at police using vehicles & guns.  Heroic police actions to protect the public have united the country.  In England, an attack using Novichok nerve agent on the former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury  has increased business sensitivity to international tensions & unconventional weapons.

Regulatory compliance with GDPR will be the top challenge for companies in 2018.   Nation State, organised crime and individual hostile cyber actors can be mitigated by well-trained workforce teams & confident, adaptive & innovative leaders. Cloud & third party providers & insider threats add to the regulatory burden on business. When one mastermind criminal can take a billion dollars out of the financial sector in four years the scale of business losses to poor performance in cyber operations is obvious.  Energy, banking and transportation are high risk targets and organisations with static unchanging security practices are possible consequential victims.