The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) twelfth annual assessment of global risks was published today, with a strong focus this year on tackling inequality and deepening social and political polarisation.

A significant part of the 67-page report — featuring some 750 experts — is dedicated to the dangers we face in an increasingly interconnected world. Large-scale cyber attacks rank sixth in the list of 30 global risks most likely to occur in the next 10 years, alongside extreme weather events and the failure of global governance.

Technology brings with it many benefits, enabling us to complete everyday tasks more quickly, communicate with ease, and buy consumer products at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen.

However, the unprecedented speed and scope of technological change has adverse consequences too. Unemployment is expected to rise as tech robots boost productivity but steal jobs, cyber attacks will become more severe and data breaches are set to become increasingly widespread.

Job losses

A staggering 86 percent of manufacturing job losses in the US between 1997 and 2007 were the result of rising productivity, compared to less than 14 percent lost because of trade, according to economists Michael Hicks and Srikant Devaraj.

Robots could automate 45 percent of the jobs US employees are paid to do, a 2015 McKinsey study looking at 800 different occupations concluded.

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Security threat

“A new arms race is developing in weaponized robotics and artificial intelligence. Cyberspace is now a domain of conflict,” according to the WEF Global Risks report 2017.

Cyber attacks have been the cause of major international upsets. In December, a cyber attack on Ukraine hit a major power station in Kiev, leaving the northern part of the capital without electricity. The blackout lasted for just over an hour. US cyber firm iSight Partners said a Russian hacking group were to blame.

The recent infiltration of the US Democratic Party’s email servers highlighted the ease with which highly sensitive information could be accessed by foreign powers with their own agendas.

Today, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister announced that France and its political parties are “no less vulnerable,” to Russian interference than the US, adding that precautions were being taken in the lead-up to the French presidential elections to avoid a repeat of what happened in the US.

French authorities say they blocked 24,000 “external attacks” last year.

Data breaches

Last month, internet company Yahoo revealed that more than 1bn user accounts may have been affected in a hacking attack dating back to 2013.

Healthcare data has also been compromised, including thousands of incidents recorded by Scottish NHS trusts in 2015, casting doubt on the security of patients’ records.

The need for regulation

New technology leaves us vulnerable to attack, meaning new regulation could be necessary.

Safety measures are already in place in countries across the world to guard against some of the dangers posed by innovative new gadgets and hackers. Last month, UK ministers put forward new proposals to limit the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones. And on Monday, the joint committee on the UK’s national security strategy launched an inquiry into digital security.

“We need to look at greater regulation of these technologies ,” said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, WEF’s head of global competitiveness and risks at the Global Risks report press conference in London this morning.

However, Jeremiah Grossman, chief of security strategy at SentinelOne, a California-based cyber security startup told Verdict that hackers are not worried about new — or for that matter existing laws.

“Cyber-criminals pose many serious risks to people including threats to their personal privacy, financial well-being, online reputation, and increasingly so — physical health,” he said.

There should be no uncertainty that these adversaries are well-funded, well-organized, highly motivated and largely do not fear any laws or law enforcement.”

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