Companies are growing increasingly concerned about the threats posed by nation-state cyber-attacks, with nearly 80% more concerned about becoming a victim than they were five years ago, according to research.

The study, by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Cybersecurity Tech Accord, found 79% of businesses are more concerned about the problem than five years ago, with nearly four in 10 saying they are “much more concerned.” More than 80% said they are concerned about falling victim, with 47% saying they were “very concerned.”

The poll, of 524 senior executives globally, showed that the ‘leaking of confidential material’ was the consequence of a nation-state cyber-attack feared by most, cited by 44% of respondents. This was followed by loss of crucial information (37%), financial loss (31%) reputation loss (25%) and loss of business continuity (21%).

The research suggests companies are taking measures to prepare for a potential attack, with 44% investing in cyber-security related technical measures, 37% on improving training and education of staff and 31% designating a team to oversee cyber security across the organisation.

Furthermore, more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said they are prepared to deal with a nation-state cyber attack with 23% saying they are “completely prepared.”

However, Marietje Schaake, president of the CyberPeace Institute and international policy director of Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, was quoted in the report as saying this is a “false sense of security”, in part because until an attack occurs, organisations tend to be confident that they will not become a victim.

Charles Carmakal, senior vice-president and chief technology officer, Mandiant, a division of FireEye, said that not all organisations are actually the intended target of nation-state attacks, so many do not have tangible experience of dealing with such threats.

The cloud environment was seen by most respondents as the most likely method attacks would enter their network, cited by six in 10 respondents.

The research also revealed that more than three-quarters of executives (77.5%) feel the likelihood of a nation-state cyber attack has increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Schaake said: “Although cyberattacks are a silent threat, they can have devastating and long-lasting effects on our society.

“Given the recent escalation of tensions in cyberspace, cooperation between governments is becoming increasingly complicated as political systems differ and technological competition rises.

“This survey is an important call to action for democratic governments to step up and think more inclusively about the kind of cyber assistance they provide to protect companies in key sectors, and ultimately civilians.”

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