Cyberterrorism is in the news so I thought I’d share this little story with you.

A year or two ago I was at a dinner of the Great and the Good. I sat next to an Ambassador. We chatted broadly about the threats facing the world: Terrorism (I said it could be much worse if terrorists had any imagination); Finance (there will be another crisis unless governments bite the bullet and simplify); Viruses/pandemics (a big one eventually but not for a while); etc. My general theme being the Global Village, everything being linked, no more survival of the fittest since there is in effect only one organism, etc. I dismissed global warming on the grounds that there are many threats with much shorter timescales. I also threw in a few left-field suggestions such as a world in which half the population spends all its disposable income on health insurance thanks to a poor result in a genetic test.

And then I mentioned cyberterrorism. Many people downplay this, citing firewalls, encryption, etc. and saying that governments have better ways of causing trouble. But this underestimates the human role in setting up such firewalls, encryption, etc. and ignores the role of the lone hacker with a grudge or a mental problem, there doesn’t need to be any government sponsorship.

The Ambassador said he wasn’t worried. He then gave the unfortunate example of flight. “If computers went down my plane ticket could very easily be printed out the old-fashioned way,” he said. I asked if he would really feel safe flying when the plane’s computer went down. He stared at me for a few seconds with a confused look on his face. He then turned to the man on his other side and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the dinner.