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Cyber Terrorism: Assessment of the Threat to Insurance

Modern terrorism is a geopolitical threat in constant evolution. Potential futures range from terrorist acquisition of weapons of mass destruction through to all-out economic and psychological warfare, or the repeated use of insurgency tactics to undermine the political tolerance of Western populations. 

Overview

Cyber terrorism looms large as in discussions speculating the shifting tactics of modern terrorist groups. Practices and predictions of terrorists acquiring destructive cyber capabilities date back many years. The imminent acquisition of cyber capabilities by terrorist groups has long been expected has but so far failed to materialise and there have been no known terrorist attacks using cyber means to trigger physical damage and destruction. However, concerns over the potential movement of terrorism into the cyber sphere endure, and, with the broadening of attack surfaces and growing technical capabilities of threat actors, the arrival of cyber terrorism seems ever more likely. 

This report examines the possibility of this emergent threat and the potential risks it poses for the UK property insurance market over the next three years, using an analysis of the state of global terrorism and technological vulnerability at the close of 2017. 

Key findings

  • While various types of cyber attack are becoming more commonplace, the most relevant cyber terrorist actors currently pose a low likelihood of inflicting severe physical destruction through digital means before 2020.
  • Nonetheless, cyber terrorism, and cyber crime in general, are merging threats. 
  • The number of vulnerabilities embedded within digital devices ubiquitous to Western society is constantly growing, and the added development of the ‘Internet of Things’ adds layers of additional vulnerability to many existing physical systems, from manufacturing and other industrial facilities to biological security systems.