The Effects of Cyber Attacks

Blog / The Effects of Cyber Attacks

The Effects of Cyber Attacks

When a threat actor hacks into a system there is always an end effect in mind, whether it is defacing a website or stealing money. The threat actor will always want their actions to evolve into something. So, once the attack has happened and they’ve achieved their objectives that should be it, or is that the case? 

Not all cyber-attacks are the same, which in turn would mean that the severity of each attack will evoke a different effect. When performing these attacks, hackers can create a chain reaction, affecting not just the machine itself, but the IT system and it doesn’t quite stop there. If an attack is severe enough, it can, in turn, affect the entire business and in some extreme cases, society. Of course, not all cyber-attacks will immediately ensue this chain reaction, so to fully engage with each effect, it’s important to separate them into categories: primary, secondary, and second-order effects.

Primary effects 

The primary effects are the direct effects of specific devices within IT systems. Threat actors perform a series of actions to create a cyber event which will disrupt and/or exploit a targeted device. This can range from something as simple as wanting to compromise the data, to a more serious effect like ransomware. The severity of the attack can be measured in the time it takes to recover from them. If the attack is simple enough, it can be resolved in a matter of hours. However, if it is a little more complex, for example aimed at the manufacturing line of a business, this is where it leads into the secondary effects.  

 Secondary effects 

The Secondary effects are the indirect impacts created by a cyber event. When on target, these effects stem from the primary attack on the targeted devices. Let’s look back into the example above. A manufacturing company’s production line has been halted for a number of days due to a cyber-attack, how does this really affect the business? 

This, again, can be broken down into three areas: time, cost, and reputation. 


Time is wasted in a business because of cyber-attacks, from waiting for the IT systems to be secured, recovering data that could have been lost in the breach, to then putting the systems back online. In the 2018 Cyber Security Survey, it took 17% of businesses ‘a day or more to recover from the breach’. When talking about wasted time, it does inadvertently lead to loss in money.  


The vast majority of businesses will lose money in some way from a cyber-attack, whether it is through money stolen by cybercriminals, sales lost because of production delays, or hiring experts to fix the attack. When the consumer is made aware of these attacks, it can then lead to them questioning the business and thus leave their reputation in jeopardy.  


A good reputation with clients can take years to build, but one major cyber-attack and the confidence is completely lost. Depending on the size of the business, there can be media coverage or competing businesses can use it to their advantage.  

With the impacts of the secondary effects in mind, let's explore the third and final major category of effects from a cyber-attack.   

Second-order effects 

A cyber event can clearly generate substantial damage to a targeted organisation by disrupting a product or service, but the effects don’t always end with the lost revenue for the business. Second-order effects are the indirect impacts that this disruption has on society. The severity of these attacks depends on the organisation targeted and the end-to-end supply chain that they are a part of. Critical infrastructures like hospitals, nuclear power plants and electrical transmissions can lead to physical destruction,  

In conclusion, cyber-attacks not only affect the IT systems they are targeting but can cascade to impact society. With the possible end effect in mind, the first point of call in preventing these attacks starts with scanning the systems for breaches and stopping them at the source. 

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