While cybercrime takes today's headlines, tomorrow Anonymous could be the next terrorist group and state-sponsored attacks could change the world forever, according to Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky.
(Credit: Michael Lee/ZDNet Australia)
In an interview with ZDNet Australia at the Kaspersky Lab Cyber Conference 2012 in Cancun, Mexico, Kaspersky said that the future of cybersecurity revolved around three key issues: cybercriminals, hacktivists and the development of state-sponsored cyberweapons.
He said that cybercriminals were having a significant negative impact on the global economy. These are hackers who conduct illegal activity purely for financial gain by farming and selling information such as credit card details. He said that they were really a problem due to the large number of them.
Kaspersky was more worried about the future, however.
"Today cybercrime, tomorrow hacktivists, [and the] day after tomorrow, cyberweapons," he said.
He was worried that hacktivists like Anonymous and Team Poison, which he likened to Occupy Wall Street protesters, could become something more sinister in the future if they weren't carefully monitored.
"Governments don't take this problem too seriously, but I'm afraid that in the future, these hacktivists they can grow into terrorists — internet terrorists. I think in many countries it has already happened. When the situation in countries is not stable, the students protest. They protest year by year. They grow, they become more experienced and step by step they become terrorists," he said.
"I'm afraid that these hacktivists will become terrorists in the future or they will be employed by terrorists."
His words were backed up earlier last week by Kaspersky Lab global research and analysis director, Costin Raiu, who said that hackivists could use the internet to be more dangerous than criminals in real life.
"We're talking about the militarisation of power and how these people are using military technology, which is really available over the internet, to boost their weapons and boost their defences," Raiu said.
"This cannot happen in real life. It's not possible for a criminal to get access to a ... stealth fighter or maybe to gain access to eavesdropping technology from the CIA and use it against a user or you. But this is actually possible in cyberspace."
Yet, hacktivists becoming terrorists wasn't Kaspersky's biggest fear either. He said he was most afraid of cyberweapons developed by nation states, such as Stuxnet.
"I am afraid that in the future, if there is no international regulation against cyberweapons ... we will get to an age of endless internet wars, and maybe with random victims and victims everywhere since the internet doesn't have borders," he said.
Kaspersky was also worried about how countries might respond to the threat, by isolating themselves from the rest of the world, or simply underestimating the potential for damage until it was too late.
"Governments will be forced to introduce very strict regulation on the internet or perhaps disconnect national segments from the global internet," he said.
"Until the first couple of wars — very serious incidents involving cyberweapons — they will not understand the problem. Maybe after their first cyber-Hiroshima, they will see."
The first countries that might encounter such a scenario were those in conflict — the US, Arab countries like Iran and Israel, Pakistan and India.
Australia may be luckier, he said, due to its isolation from the rest of the world in terms of political conflict and physical location.
"Australia doesn't have enemies [and it's] not in any conflicts — it's a disconnected paradise."
However, he said that didn't mean we weren't going to see casualties.
"Even though the conflict is far, far, far away from Australia, there could be random victims in Australia because [the] internet is the same everywhere. I'm afraid that in the case of a global cyberwar, Australia will not be out of the conflict."
Michael Lee travelled to the Cyber Conference 2012 as a guest of Kaspersky Lab.