Gatwick Airport is the second busiest in Britain and the eighth busiest in Europe. And yet it was brought to a standstill for two days by two men and a single drone. The vulnerability reminded me of my conversation with Serge Gribov, a cybersecurity investor at Flint Capital, at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon two years ago. He was talking about one of his investments, and industrial cybersecurity firm based in Israel called CyberX. Half annoyed I hugged myself for his pitch. They usually go like this: “They are full of internet hackers.
But my conversation with Greaves was different. It was … extreme. He told me that the criminals who enter the websites of banks or chain stores and steal personal information or money are not scary people there. We should be really concerned about hackers trying to take the whole country offline. People, who try to turn off the Internet, turn off the lights, cut off the water supply, disable the railways, or blow up factories.
The West’s weakness lies in the old electronics and sensors that control infrastructure and industrial processes. Often these electronics were installed decades ago. The security systems that control them are outdated or non-existent. If a hacker can gain control of a temperature sensor in a factory, he – they are usually male – can blow up the place or set it on fire. “The problem that people don’t understand is that it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You can destroy an entire country. It can be done,” he said.
And then, how do you respond? The country that was attacked – that is fighting to get its power grid back online – is he running News? He probably didn’t say that because “who knows you have no idea”. “You can have a team of five in a basement and be as destructive as the WMDs,” he said. “It’s really scary in some ways it’s a matter of time because it’s really easy.” This time, I skipped my conversation with Greaves. His vice chancellor fund was invested in CyberX, so the world is full of bad people; he had a clear interest in promoting this idea.