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Future Society

A Dangerous Cyberattack On A Petrochemical Plant Could Be The First Of Many

Cyberwarfare won't just be restricted to our digital lives.

You probably didn’t hear about it at the time, but in August 2017, there was an attack on a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia. It was meant to cause a cascading explosion, experts determined. The only reason it didn’t (and that you didn’t already hear about it) is because there was a mistake in the assailant’s code.

This may feel far away, but such an attack could have easily happened more locally. Russians are hacking the U.S. electric grid. The greatest fear is that they are able to access American nuclear plants, which could wreak devastation rarely seen on some of the country’s most populated areas.

A new kind of attack has made its way into the world. And, frankly, it’s terrifying.

Experts are learning a lot from this foiled attack in Saudi Arabia. The New York Times reports that the attack required a level of sophistication that shows the attackers had government backing, though the individual hackers and the country backing them are still unknown.

What is clear: the malicious code was sent to do far more than just take down one plant. It was an act of war against the nation of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to the Times, Amy Myers Jaffe, an expert on Middle East energy at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that the attack was likely an attempt to discourage investors from getting involved with the Saudi Arabia, as it is working to diversify its economy so that the younger members of the population have different kinds of jobs.

“Not only is it an attack on the private sector, which is being touted to help promote growth in the Saudi economy, but it is also focused on the petrochemical sector, which is a core part of the Saudi economy,” Jaffe said.

Ultimately, the attack revealed that our worst fears are justified: Cyber terrorists can cause very real physical damage.

In the future, we will probably see more events like these. And in some, there won’t be errors in the code. In those unfortunate incidents, our technology and buildings may be claimed — perhaps even our lives.

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