As the internet grows in size and speed and becomes ever-more intertwined within each country’s and the world’s economic and business structure the threats also increase.
It is because of these threats that last year’s National Security Strategy placed a cyber attack on Britain as a ‘tier one threat’ of ‘highest priority for UK national security’ putting it above an attack by nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological means.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, has added to this by saying in an interview with the Sun newspaper that "We will defend ourselves in every way we can, not only to deflect but to prevent attacks that we know are taking place." This means that the UK would consider pre-emptive action to prevent a cyber attack on it.
The UK now spends Â£650 million a year on cyber-attack defences, splitting the money between GCHQ Cheltenham and The MOD’s Defence Cyber Operations Group.
We will not be the only one spending heavily on keeping ahead in the cyber-attack stakes. Mr Hague said: "The threat is rising exponentially from states and from criminal networks in what they do in cyberspace. This has to be addressed.” And when you consider that cybercriminals cost the world an estimated trillion dollars a year you can see the scale of it. But it could also cost lives if such things as hospital systems and air traffic control are targeted.
One can see that this might go along the same sort of lines as the nuclear arms race, which ended up with the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). This was seen as a deterrent as no-one wanted to start a nuclear war as they would also be destroying themselves.
With more and more money being poured into countering cyber-war we may end up with a ‘you do it to me and I’ll do it back’ threat. A sort of ‘Mutually Assured Information Meltdown’. From MAD to MAIM if you will.
The only drawback here is that, unlike a nuclear attack, you don’t need anything other than a computer and a connection to launch a cyberattack. It can also be launched from unexpected quarters.
And what if the only pre-emptive action you could take against a suspected cyber-attack was a physical military one?
There is due to be a meeting in London next month of over 60 nations and internet giant bosses to discuss the cyber threat and attempt to agree an ‘International Rule Book’ on combating it.