The UK is at high risk of a “catastrophic” ransomware attack that could cost tens of billions of pounds and shut down critical infrastructure, a parliamentary report has warned.

The news follows a report from research company GlobalData that warned employees will face a greater risk of spear-phishing attacks in 2024. The research company claimed that cyber risk is higher than ever, and the consequences of attacks are significant.

The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) warned that departments responsible for national infrastructure are using old systems that put them at an increased risk of a significant breach. 

“If the UK is to avoid being held hostage to fortune and avoid electoral interference, it is vital that ransomware becomes a more pressing political priority, and that further substantial resource be devoted to tackling this pernicious threat to the UK’s national security,” according to the report.

The Office for Budget Responsibility found that an attack of this magnitude could result in an increase of £29bn in government borrowing and slash 1.6% of the country’s GDP.

Ransomware is software used by hackers to steal files and take over systems, bad actors then usually ask for a ransom to release.

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In 2021, the UK’s National Health Service and Ireland’s Health Service Executive were targets of a ransomware attack. 

According to the JCNSS report, the UK is the second-most at-risk country for ransomware attacks. The US is currently the most at risk of being targeted. 

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, cited by GlobalData in its Thematic Intelligence research: Cybersecurity 2023 report, global cybercrime will reach $10.5trn annually by 2025.

Tackling this issue requires investment, and GlobalData forecasts that cybersecurity revenues will reach $344bn worldwide by 2030.

According to GlobalData’s Tech, Media, & Telecom Predictions 2024 report, company employees will face a greater risk of spear-phishing attacks in 2024 aimed at gaining access to an organisation’s systems through AI-powered social engineering. 

GlobalData stated that the widespread availability of generative AI tools, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, enhances the sophistication and personalised nature of attacks from bad actors.