The Global Risks 2014 report from the World Economic Forum highlights a collection of potential problems facing the world today. Alongside income disparity, economic crises, youth unemployment, water crises and other social and environmental catastrophes is the potential for so-called ‘cybergeddon’. The report notes: ‘So far, cyberspace has proved resilient to attacks, but the underlying dynamic of the online world has always been that it is easier to attack than defend. The world may be only one disruptive technology away from attackers gaining a runaway advantage, meaning the Internet would cease to be a trusted medium for communication or commerce.’
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I’m sure we’ve all had that moment – when we’re searching for directions online, or trying to prove a point in conversation – where we’ve thought to ourselves, ‘What did we do before the Internet?’ Even in the last few years, our attitude to – and dependence on – the Internet has changed significantly. Imagine if we were suddenly asked to do without it? Global Risks 2014 quotes the former President of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Rod Beckstrom, who said: “Everything that is connected to the Internet can be hacked, and everything is being connected to the Internet.” As we see cement plants develop shared learning platforms and connect their control rooms with remote ‘help-desks’, it is quite easy to see the impact cybergeddon would have. As the report states, ‘[i]n the past, cyber attacks typically had only a limited effect because they broke only ones and zeroes or things made of silicon...However, projects such as the Smart Grid – online connection of electrical power generation and transmission – are increasing the possibility of cyber attacks breaking things made of concrete and steel.’ We have built our modern lives around the availability of the Internet – not just in terms of technologies, but also with regard to lifestyle, whether that be an expectation of immediate access to information, or the ability to turn a beach resort into your remote office. What’s more, it is not only cyber crime we have to beware of – Global Risks 2014 (an optimistic read) also posits the dangers of an earthquake through Silicon Valley, a solar storm that takes out the national grid, or ‘space junk’ that devastates the global navigation satellite systems – the system relied upon by the emergency services, ATMs and various wired and wireless communications networks. There isn’t a lot you can do about any of those things, except have a back-up plan should the worst happen, which is what Global Risks 2014 is proposing companies and countries do. Of course, the other problem with the Internet is its widespread misuse by companies and governments alike, meaning a global accord on dealing with cybergeddon has more to do with trust than technology. Returning to the cement industry, regular readers of World Cement would do well to remind themselves of the Keynote we ran last April from Robert Steininger of Start Thinking Results. In discussing ‘Software Innovations in Cement’, Robert warned of the dangers of cross-contamination between a cement plant’s control system network and those other computers in the plant that aren’t necessarily protected with the most up-to-date anti-virus software. His advice: where possible, don’t plug it in. Those subscribers looking for such advice and insights can now download the 2014 Cement Collection, which includes a ‘Keynotes’ package. Simply sign in at www.worldcement.com, or see page 64 for more information.