As digital connectivity becomes ever more integral to the global economy, companies and individuals become more exposed to vulnerabilities in the cyber system. Governments, in particular, are increasingly concerned about the threat to their economies posed by cyber attacks to individual entities and critical national infrastructure. The motivations and capabilities of cyber attackers are also changing over time with state sponsored cyber terrorism becoming more visible and threatening than the perils posed by lone hackers. The UK economy relies heavily on digital activity. Correspondingly, around 30% of cyber attacks registered in the UK are in the financial services, with around 15% of attacks registered in each of the digital communications and energy sectors. Cyber threats do not only cause chaos in the virtual realm but can affect physical systems as is analysed in the “Erebos” Business Blackout scenario stress test2 which speculates on the effect of a cyber campaign which disables and damages a number of electricity generators in the north east of the USA.
The UK Critical Infrastructure Cyber Catastrophe Scenario describes a well-resourced and carefully developed attack on the electricity distribution network in the south and east of the UK and its impacts on UK Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). This is a regional power supply catastrophe that affects between 9 million and 13 million electricity customers depending on the scenario variant. Its knock-on effects include disruption to transportation, digital communications, and water services for 8 to 13 million people. The economic losses to sectors are in the range of £11.6 billion to £85.5 billion in the different variants of the scenario. The overall GDP impact of the attack (GDP@Risk) amounts to a loss of between £49 billion to £442 billion across the entire UK economy in the five years following the outage, when compared against baseline estimates for economic growth.