This report is the latest in a sustained effort throughout 2014 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (The Web at 25). It includes the responses of hundreds of experts to a question about the likelihood of major cyber attacks in the coming decade. It is part of a series of reports tied to the Web’s birthday; some of the studies look at how far Internet use has penetrated American life and some examine experts’ assessments of the technology environment by 2025. The findings we describe in this report emerge in the context of these earlier reports:
- A February 2014 report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project tied to the Web’s anniversary looking at the strikingly fast adoption of the Internet and the generally positive attitudes users have about its role in their social environment.
- A March 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report issued by the Internet Project in association with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center focusing on the Internet’s future more broadly. Some 1,867 experts and stakeholders responded to an open-ended question about the future of the Internet by 2025.
- A May 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report on the Internet of Things from Pew Research and Elon University examining the likely impacts of the Internet of Things and wearable and embedded networked devices. A majority of the more than 1,600 respondents said they expect significant expansion of the Internet of Things, including connected devices, appliances, vehicles, wearables, and sensor-laden aspects of the environment.
- A July 2014 Digital Life report on “Net Threats” (challenges to the open Internet) from Pew Research and Elon University canvassing a number of experts and other stakeholders on what they see as the major threats to the free flow of information online. A majority of these experts expect the Internet to remain quite open to sharing but they see many potential threats to this freedom.
- An August 2014 Digital Life report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” from Pew Research and Elon University about the degree to which technology advances might destroy more jobs than they created. The expert respondents were split on the verdict.
- An October 2014 Digital Life report on “Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age” from Pew Research and Elon University about the potential new digital activities and services that will arise as gigabit connectivity—50 to 100 times faster than most Americans now enjoy—comes into communities.
This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals.
Lee Rainie, Director, Internet Project
Prof. Janna Anderson, Director, Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center
Jennifer Connolly, Research Consultant
Find related reports about the future of the Internet at http://www.pewInternet.org/topics/future-of-the-Internet/
About this Canvassing of Experts
The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked by the Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between November 25, 2013, and January 13, 2014. This is the sixth Internet study the two organizations have conducted together since 2004. For this project, we invited more than 12,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. Some 1,642 responded to this question about cyber attacks.
The Web-based instrument was fielded to three audiences. The first was a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research and Elon University during the five previous rounds of this study, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the Internet realm during its formative years. The second wave of solicitation was targeted to prominent listservs of Internet analysts, including lists titled: Association of Internet Researchers, Internet Rights and Principles, Liberation Technology, American Political Science Association, Cybertelecom, and the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association. The third audience was the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, which includes those who closely follow technology trends, data, and themselves are often builders of parts of the online world. While most people who responded live in North America, people from across the world were invited to participate.
Respondents gave their answers to the following prompts:
Major cyber attacks: By 2025, will a major cyber attack have caused widespread harm to a nation’s security and capacity to defend itself and its people? (By “widespread harm,” we mean significant loss of life or property losses/damage/theft at the levels of tens of billions of dollars.)
Please elaborate on your answer. (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) Explain what vulnerabilities nations have to their sovereignty in the coming decade and whether major economic enterprises can or cannot thwart determined opponents. Or explain why you think the level of threat has been hyped and/or why you believe attacks can be successfully thwarted.
Since the data are based on a non-random sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 84% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 19% identified themselves as research scientists; 9% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 33% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”
On this particular question many of the respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their Internet expertise or background.
Here are some of the key respondents in this report:
Miguel Alcaine, International Telecommunication Union area representative for Central America; Jari Arkko, chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force; Francois-Dominique Armingaud, formerly a computer engineer for IBM now teaching security; Stowe Boyd, lead at GigaOM Research; Bob Briscoe, chief researcher for British Telecom; Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google; David Clark, senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Glenn Edens, research scientist at PARC and IETF area chair; Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International; Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft; Joel Halpern a distinguished engineer at Ericsson; Jim Hendler, Semantic Web scientist and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Christian Huitema, distinguished engineer with Microsoft; Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center at the City University of New York; Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Informatin; Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition; Ian Peter, pioneer Internet activist and Internet rights advocate; Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, now a member of the board of ICANN; Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Famer and longtime leader with ICANN; Paul Saffo, managing director of Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford; Barbara Simons, former president of ACM and board chair for Verified Voting; Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center; Stuart Umpleby, systems theory expert and professor at George Washington University; and Hal Varian, chief economist for Google.
Here is a selection of other institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:
Yahoo; Intel; IBM; Hewlett-Packard; Nokia; Amazon; Netflix; Verizon; PayPal; BBN; Comcast; US Congress; EFF; W3C; The Web Foundation; NASA; Association of Internet Researchers; Bloomberg News; World Future Society; ACM; the Aspen Institute; GigaOm; the Markle Foundation; the Network Information Center; key offices of US and European Union governments; the Internet Engineering Task Force; the Internet Hall of Fame; ARIN; Nominet; Oxford Internet Institute; Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Purdue, Florida State and Columbia universities; the universities of Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, Texas-Austin, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Boston College.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses to this question, featuring many dozens of additional opinions, can be found on the Imagining the Internet site: