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The three horsemen of cyber risks: misinformation, disinformation, and fake news

By Shannon Williams
Thu 4 Nov 2021

The risks associated with misleading information can have a profoundly negative impact. A new study from Elsevier Group of Economics Journals looks into ways to respond to the new digital age challenges.

Dr. Pythagoras N. Petratos, of Coventry University of Business School, says misleading information has emerged as one of the leading cyber risks in our society, affecting political leaders, nations, and peoples lives, with the COVID-19 pandemic having only made it worse. 

"Industry 4.0 has brought about a metamorphosis in the world of business. The new revolution demands the integration of physical, biological and digital systems under one roof," he says.

"Such a transformation however, comes with its own set of risks. Misleading information, including misinformation, disinformation and fake news, often has damaging effects on the public image of political leaders and, as the COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown, on the general public and the economy," he says.

However,  Petratos says the consequences of misinformation on business organisations have been far less explored. 

"Information has always played an irrefutable role in economics. We need to pay attention to the quality of information disseminated into the world, now more than ever, as spreading misinformation has become a lot easier with the advent of digital transformation," he says.

"My research attempts to bridge the divide between academic research and real-world practice of cyber risk management."

Petratos says the fake news infodemic that spread alongside the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the finance sector.

"For instance, during the lockdown period of 2020, there was a huge surge in fake news and illegal activity related to the financial and other markets. Financial firms had to train their staff to deal with fraudulent online schemes and reports."

Deliberate spreading of disinformation has also been responsible for swaying the outcome of elections. Cyber attackers have used misleading information on social media for procuring campaign finances as well as personal and financial information of people and corporations. These actions undermine a nation's security and make them vulnerable to geopolitical risks.

"To deal with these cyber risks, businesses and authorities need to establish cybersecurity practices and policies that can evolve and adapt to the multifaceted cyberthreats," says Petratos.

"Executives and leaders should be trained to recognise cyber threats when they see one. To enable faster recognition, firms need to embrace modern computing software that fits their work criteria and can detect, report, and effectively manage cyber threats."

Anti-misinformation strategies such as having human fact-checkers for websites or artificial intelligence for bot detection on social media could be used to prevent the damage caused by propagation of misleading information. Partnerships between private and public sectors can also mitigate cyber risks by forming a united front with better cyber defences and funds to invest in cyber security technologies.

All in all, the study provides a primer on the risks associated with misleading information in the sphere of business and the ways to avoid them, highlighting the fact that businesses are not immune to them either. 

"Fake news is not a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing digital transformations, and advances in big data have exacerbated it," says Petratos.

"Business executives and leaders across an array of industries, organisations, and nations, as well as the public, need to become aware of such risks and find innovative ways to manage them."

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