Attacks on Internet protocols and solar flares taking out communications equipment would cause more havoc.
The chances of viruses such as Stuxnet having a global impact is small, according to a report published by the organisation of economic co-operation and development (OECD), but national governments must still take measures to protect themselves against the inconvenience they can cause.
“Likely breaches of cybersecurity such as malware, distributed denial of service, espionage, criminal action, recreational hackers and hactivists will be relatively localised and short-term in impact,” wrote Peter Sommer, from the London School Economics (LSE) Information Systems and Innovation Group.
The report highlighted potentially ‘catastrophic’ breaches as attacks on underlying internet protocols, like the border gateway protocol that handles routing between internet service providers (ISPs), and large scale solar flares which could physically destroy communications satellites, mobile phone base stations and switches.
Last year saw the Stuxnet computer virus infect Windows based Internet connected PCs at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, and other industrial systems in Germany, Indonesia, India and the US, leading to concerns about a new cyber-weapon.
“Systems which are stand-alone or communicate over proprietary networks or are air-gapped from the Internet are safe from the vast majority of attacks, but still vulnerable to management carelessness and insider threats,” said the OECD.
Reducing Systemic Cybersecurity Risk [PDF] - OECD report