Emerging technologies such as cloud services, artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT) may well become the next big headache for firms and organisations in 2018.

The acceleration in the use of new technologies has led the World Economic Forum (WEF) to warn businesses against complacency towards cyberattacks – a risk it says could “cause not only isolated and temporary disruptions, but radical and irreversible systemic shocks”.

Ahead of its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next week, the WEF launched the results of its global risks perception survey today. Cybersecurity was at the centre of concern for the nearly 1,000 experts who provided feedback.

The 2018 survey report notes that in previous years, respondents have tended to be optimistic about technological risks. But this is no longer the case. “This year concerns jumped, and cyberattacks and massive data fraud both appear in the list of the top five global risks by perceived likelihood,” the report reads.

And it is likely to get worse in 2018, according to John Drzik, president of global risk and digital at Marsh, one of the project’s strategic partners.

“Why is cyber coming into focus?” he asked, speaking at the launch of the report. “Obviously there have been a lot of attacks in 2017 with Wannacry, Petya, NotPetya. But looking forward, the scale of sophistication of attacks is going to grow. It’s fuelled in part by geopolitical trends, which could lead to more state-sponsored attacks, to add to the financially motivated attacks that are already out there.”

At the same time, companies’ cyber exposure is growing. The report specifically points to the accelerating use of cloud services, while IoT is expected to expand from an estimated 8.4 billion devices to a projected 20.4 billion devices in 2020. This, Drzik said, is widening the scope for potential attacks.

Notable examples of 2017 include the WannaCry attack, which affected 300,000 computers across 150 countries. Petya is another example of an attack that caused huge corporate losses, with Merck, FedEx and Maersk each reporting third-quarter losses of around US$300mn as a result.

The cost of cybercrime to businesses over the next five years is expected to rise to US$8tn, according to the WEF.

Drzik warned that even as the danger has become more visible, firms are still under-resourced when it comes to efforts to mitigate the risk.

“The estimate now is that if an attacker took down a major cloud provider, the damages could be US$50-120bn, so something in the range of a Sandy event to a Katrina event. The aggregate cost of cyberattacks is now estimated at more than US$1tn per year versus roughly US$300bn experienced in 2017 from losses to natural catastrophes, and that was a record year.”

Yet, he added, the infrastructure to prevent against cyberattacks is “much smaller in scale” than that to deter natural catastrophes.

“From a business standpoint, there needs to be more focus on response, in addition to prevention. Again, comparing to natural catastrophes, most businesses that are based in a Nat Cat prone zone have very extensive business continuity plans to respond to that type of emergency. Only about one third of companies have a cyber incident response plan. So by comparison, we are under-resourced.”

Cybersecurity isn’t the only risk that dominates the 2018 survey. Other top risks include environmental risks, in particular extreme weather events (for the second year running), natural disasters and failure of climate change mitigation and adaption.

Overall, 59% of the respondents expect risks to intensify, compared to only 7% who believe that risks will decline. The pessimistic outlook is partly caused by a deteriorating geopolitical landscape, with 93% of the respondents expecting political and economic confrontations between major powers to worsen in 2018.

Meanwhile, on a more positive note, the survey’s economic indicators suggest the world is “getting back on track after the global financial crisis that erupted 10 years ago”, with economic risks featuring less prominently this year. “This is a great opportunity to act on many of these risks, because there’s a window of opportunity that leaders can take advantage of,” noted Margareta Drzeniek Hanouz, head of economic progress at WEF.