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NSRA says cyberattacks pose a greater threat than ever before

The UK government has upped the risk factor for cyberattacks on infrastructure, outlining how attacks on vital services and the emergence of AI could potentially threaten public safety

The UK government's risk assessment office has raised its threat level rating for cyberattacks.

The NSRA says that it now considers the risk posed by cyberthreats to be a 'moderate' severity, an increase from the 'limited' classification in the last report. The 'moderate' classification includes such scenarios as passenger vessel incidents, toxic chemical releases and widespread drought.

In making the assessment, a number of factors were considered including economic impact, likelihood of occurrence, and widespread impact on the population.

The report notes a number of scenarios in which cybersecurity and hacking could play a role in a potential disaster scenario in the UK, with attacks on infrastructure, utilities, and even government offices presented as possible scenarios.

In one example, the NSRA paints the picture of a cyber attack that would cripple the nation's gas supply and could cost lives.

"There would be casualties and fatalities as a result of a lack of heating, lack of access to necessary medical treatment, exacerbation of an existing condition, or limited ability to safely use gas- fired cookers," the report reads.

"However, impacts would depend on the scale of disruption."

In other examples, the NSRA imagines how cyberattacks could disrupt the security grid or take nuclear plants offline, though they stopped short of imagining a full-scale Chernobyl scenario.

More interestingly, the report also considers how cyberattacks would factor into attacks on the government itself, presenting one scenario in which hackers could seek to disrupt elections, thus triggering a national crisis.

"The UK also has established structures (including incident response capabilities) in place to safeguard the integrity and security of UK democratic processes from interference, including cyber threats."

Artificial Intelligence also looks to play a significant role in the government's threat outlook, with the NSRA dedicating a significant portion of the report to analyzing how AI systems could be misused for ill intent.

The report presents such scenarios as AIs being used to spread disinformation to the public, or being weaponized against companies to help cause economic turmoil.

"AI systems and their capabilities present many opportunities, from expediting progress in pharmaceuticals to other applications right across the economy and society, which the Foundation Models Taskforce aims to accelerate," the report reads.

"However, alongside the opportunities, there are a range of potential risks and there is uncertainty about its transformative impact."