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Red alert: These are the biggest security risks for 2016


Next year is looking "worse than at any point in the past decade," when it comes to global security and political risk, according to global consultancy Control Risks, warning of further volatility for markets.

Terrorism, Middle Eastern instability, cyber-risk, a Chinese economy in transition and European financial and political uncertainties mean a potentially more volatile world in 2016, according to the firm's outlook for business risk, published on Monday.

Looking at the security trends that could top the list of business concerns next year, the "RiskMap" noted several escalating security and political risks.

While it said the "cyber threat will grow as more nation states engage in cyber operations and criminal attacks on corporate networks become increasingly damaging" it also noted that uncertainty over China's ability to adapt to a "new era of 6 percent growth" had the potential to "send jitters through global markets."

The report also noted that relations between powerful leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese and Russian counterparts, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin respectively, could deteriorate as each grapples with "his own domestic issues and nullifying the others' influence overseas."

One thing that has seemed to unite nations is a concern over the seemingly dramatic rise in terrorism attacks in 2015. To name just a few of the larger attacks on the West, there was the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris at the start of the year, an attack on British tourists in Tunisia in June, the downing of a Russian jet in Egypt in October and again, a further Islamic State-backed attack in Paris in November in which 130 people died.

French military patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015.
Yves Herman | Reuters

Despite a Western alliance as well as Turkey and Russia conducting airstrikes on the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq, Chris Torrens, senior managing director at Control Risks, told CNBC Monday that there was no coordinated response and that was a concern going forward.

"Most countries are playing to their own national agendas so Putin is delighted to become more internationally relevant, the U.S. is actually quite comfortable with shale gas and it's had technology help it to become a net energy exporter so it's less inclined to get involved and so we're not really seeing a coordinated response there and that's of real concern."

End to freedom of movement?

Europe did not escape the pessimistic outlook, with Control Risks noting that "Europe is fractured, dealing with growing nationalism at home and failing to provide coordinated responses to challenges such as terrorism, regional security threats and migration."

Control Risks's Torrens told CNBC that the region's migrant crisis – and signs that certain countries could be closing borders to prevent the flow of mainly Syrian migrants fleeing civil war at home -- could have a negative impact on the freedom of movement of European citizens in the "Schengen" area of 26 countries that abolished passport and border control for EU citizens.

"I think the biggest impact of the migrant crisis will be the integrity of the Schengen framework so as countries feel increasingly inclined to put in their own border checks and they get more nervous about people potentially coming up from Syria through Greece into the rest of Europe they're going to worry about that and that's going to potentially have a really negative impact on the movement of people and the flow of goods and tariff-free trade."

"Fifty percent of the Schengen population, of which there are 400 million people across 26 countries, live within an hour's drive of the national border. People have got so used to borderless travel and trade that it could have a real impact," he said.

Power shifts

Richard Fenning, chief executive of Control Risks, said that the report summarized that "we live in an age of surprises" and that businesses needed to be prepared.

"We have seen very clearly how agile start-ups can subvert entire industries, how firebrand celebrities can single-handedly alter a country's political landscape, how corrupt governments can be jolted into reform by angry protests, how terrorists can use social media and the internet to revolutionize their operations, and how skilled cybercriminals can steal sensitive data from even the most secure corporate databases," he said in the report.

"These risks - and many others - will continue to threaten unprepared businesses. Whether it is the see-sawing balance of economic power between the East and the West, uncertainty about the future of commodities prices, the disconcerting metastasis of IS, the ramifications of China's adjustment to its new economic reality, or an explosion in the frequency and severity of criminal cyber-attacks, successful businesses will need to prepare themselves to face tough challenges on a number of fronts."

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.