Cyber-attacks are unlikely to cause as much disruption worldwide as pandemics and financial problems, says The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Research by the organisation revealed the disruption caused by a cyber-attack is likely to be short-lived and very localised, rather than global.

Professor Peter Sommer from the London School of Economics, who documented the research along with Dr Ian Brown of the Oxford Internet Institute, revealed the terms used to describe cyber attacks is adding to the confusion of the potential effects.

"We don't help ourselves using 'cyberwar' to describe espionage or hacktivist blockading or defacing of websites, as recently seen in reaction to WikiLeaks," he said.

"Nor is it helpful to group trivially avoidable incidents like routine viruses and frauds with determined attempts to disrupt critical national infrastructure."

While the report revealed the majority of cyber incidents are trivial, it did acknowledge that a few may have catastrophic global effects such as a solar flare knocking out satellites, base stations and hardware needed to keep the internet running.

The OECD also said it was unlikely there will ever be "a true cyberwar" between nations, because more than one class of weapons will be used and the unpredictable effects mean nations could not control how was targeted.

However, the OECD advised governments that they should plan on what to do in the event of an attack.

"If appropriate contingency plans are in place, information systems can support the management of other systemic risks," the organisation said.

"They can provide alternate means of delivering essential services and disseminate the latest news and advice on catastrophic events, reassuring citizens and hence dampening the potential for social discontent and unrest."

See also: Iran hacks US 'espionage' networks