The most obvious outcome of cyber-attacks is financial loss, whether as a result of fraud, being forced to pay ransoms, being subject to fines or through missed revenue and opportunity costs. It is estimated that US companies lost US$654 billion to cyber-attacks in the last year alone. This year is already set to be worse.
Yet organizations aren’t the only ones at the mercy of cyber-criminals. A growing part of government-run infrastructures in modern states is now managed online, deeply interconnected, and ladened with the same vulnerabilities as businesses. Attacks on these systems have the power to disrupt entire regions and countries, cause untold chaos, and may even result in actual physical harm to individuals. In 2016, hackers were able to shut down the power grid of an entire region of Ukraine, leaving 230,000 people without electricity for hours.
Cybercrime and hacking can have material impact at societal scale, in particular through the voluntary spread of disinformation. The dissemination of fake news during crucial political events in recent history has shown that, even via unreliable, often poorly constructed channels and content, the spread of false information can yield grave consequences. These effects can stretch even further when disinformation is spread via legitimate channels. When, in 2013, the Twitter account for the Associated Press was hacked to post a breaking headline about a bomb attack at the White House injuring President Barack Obama, US$136 billion in equity market value was wiped off the Dow Jones almost instantly.
Ultimately, the most damaging and lasting effect of these incidents, particularly when not quickly dealt with and mitigated, is the loss of trust between people and the organizations or institutions they depend on. Stakeholders, employees, third parties and consumers on one hand, taxpayers and voters on the other; all expect consistent, reliable performance as well as the safeguarding of their own safety and security, both on and off-line. When data confidentiality, integrity or availability are compromised, or products and services cease to perform as expected, trust built over years can be lost in a day.