As we speed into the future, an increasing number of components linked to our nation's and corporations' critical infrastructure are reliant on a connection to the Internet. The possibility of devastating cyberattacks from aggressive nation-states, cyberterrorists and hacktivists becomes much more real: All of Manhattan's streetlights turning green at the same time; a U.S. military drone hitting an unintended target; a fleet of hundreds of driverless cars crashing into a police precinct.
Big, successful "kinetic" attacks won't likely be the result of one or two technological tweaks or break-ins, say security experts. Instead, the attackers will use many different steps and elements to penetrate a system over time. A key piece of such cyber events will probably be some form of data sabotage, the subtle tweaking of data within transactions to gain some type of benefit. It's a concept that U.S. intelligence officials and security firms have identified as one of cybercrime's next big fronts for 2016. And it implies that data sabotage will also exploit less sensational, though highly influential, opportunities: manipulation of personal finance information, stock tickers or even a company's earnings report for financial gain.
"Most of the public discussion regarding cyberthreats has focused on the confidentiality and availability of information," James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress in September 2015. "In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity. ... Decision-making by senior government officials, corporate executives, investors or others will be impaired if they cannot trust the information they are receiving."