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Cyber System Threats – A Plant Disease Analogue

  • Much like diseases of humans and other animals, plant diseases occur due to pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, phytoplasmas, protozoa, and parasitic plants. Plant disease epidemiologists examine the cause and effects of such diseases.


There are several analogies applicable when comparing the damages caused by the current cyber exploits and the historical damages to the cultivation of land by the mankind. When humans began the transition from the hunting and gathering civilization to an agriculture-based society, disruptions in the ecology of the uncultivated lands took place. For ten thousands of years disease epidemics in planted agriculture caused huge losses in crops. Plant epidemics threatened to wipe out an entire species of agricultural products. For instance the potato late blight led to the Great Irish Famine and the loss of many lives when it also coincided with the socio-economic neglect by the government.

Commonly the elements of an epidemic are referred to as the “disease triangle”: a susceptible host, pathogen and a favorable environment. For disease to occur all three of these must be present. In the case of cyber crime similar conditions exist. There are now tens of millions of computers susceptible to cyber infection. Cyber pathogens can be found in the form of tens of thousands of malware. Simultaneously, a favorable infection-prone environment was created by the invention of the Internet, the browser and the Web pages.

Executive Guidance

Cyber crime should not be seen executives as a historically isolated occurrence, but as an evolution in the history of humans to increase the complexity of its habitat. Cyber crime is certainly different from the evolution of plant diseases, but similar in many ways how mankind has organized to deal with the threats to its progress. By analogy cyber breaches will have to be dealt with through innovative means of isolation of networks through prophylaxis. This will require the improvement in the resistance to malware pathogens though corruption-resistant software. Most importantly, it will call for new forms in the organization of defenses. How all that can be accomplished, while the time available now for countermeasures is shrinking, becomes a challenge for operating computer networks in an information-based society.

The solution to cyber crime cannot be found through the application of piecemeal solutions that concentrate in separate and isolated solutions such as virus prevention, firewall or software defined networks. Remedies to cyber threats can be found only through a re-examination of the total ecology of our information-based society.

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