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A Cyberattack in Saudi Arabia Had a Deadly Goal. Experts Fear Another Try

Abstract: 
This article gives an overview of a nearly devastating cyber breach in Saudi Arabia. The only thing that halted this terrifying attack was a mistake in the attack code, and experts fear that the mistake has been patched. Furthermore, 18,000 industrial control systems around the world rely on the same mechanism that was breached in the January 2017 attack. This attack should be especially alarming to the world because the attack could have physical consequences. Typically, when thinking of a cyberattack, the commoner imagines digital consequences including, loss of personal data or loss of access to a web service. Rarely, are the physical consequences thought of. This article reminds the reader that cyber threats can be physical threats. Experts studying the case believe that the attack was designed to kill people. Reports indicate that past accidental failures of petrochemical plants have killed hundreds of people. An attack designed to kill people could wreak even more damage on employees and surrounding communities than an accident. An additional alarming takeaway from the article is that investigators believe that a nation-state perpetrated the attack. This has potentially startling ramification for conventional warfare but also cyberwarfare. Nations now have the ability to cause mass destruction behind enemy lines without ever crossing a border or flying through an airspace. Furthermore, the problem of attribution remains with these types of attacks. If the attacker state is skilled enough, the victim state may never be able to discover who the perpetrator of the attack was. This could mean that states that commit these kinds of attacks leave unpunished and thus have no incentive to cease their activities. Attacks such as these truly have the potential to revolutionize warfare.
Author: 
Nicole Perlroth and Clifford Krauss
Institution: 
New York Times
Year: 
2018
Input By: 
Cody Durr
Affiliation: 
MIT
Region(s): 
Industry Focus: 
Manufacturing
Chemical
Information & Telecommunication
Internet & Cyberspace
Machinery & Equipment
Datatype(s): 
Events