NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 4, 2009

Cyber-attacks are weapons of mass disruption, used by adversaries cloaked in anonymity that could prove at least temporarily crippling to the digital infrastructure of modern society.  This kind of attack is attractive to America's enemies, not only because it allows weaker entities to take on far stronger ones but because it turns our technological strength into a weakness, says John P. Avlon, a Senior Fellow with the Manhattan Institute.

For example:

  • In March 2000, 49-year-old Vitek Boden, fired from his job at an Australian sewage-treatment plant, remotely gained control of its systems and flooded Queensland rivers, coastland and parks with 1 million liters of raw sewage, causing millions of dollars of damage.
  • In the United States, a researcher at IBM Security Services named Scott Lunsford successfully test-hacked into a nuclear power plant in 2007, despite assurances from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it would be nearly impossible.

The relatively recent development of globally interconnected digital networks has also given rise to a new era of espionage, says Avlon:

  • Every day, the U.S. Department of Defense detects 3 million unauthorized computer probes of its networks, while the State Department fends off 2 million.
  • The Police Department of the City of New York reports 70,000 attempted electronic intrusions daily.
  • In 2007, spies believed to be associated with China's military, successfully hacked into Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' office computer system, forcing 1,500 computers to be taken offline.
  • In today's White House, all cell phones must be surrendered before entering the Oval Office, Roosevelt Room or Situation Room, for fear that embedded audio or video inputs might be remotely activated.

Though The United States has been aware of the danger for at least a decade, our progress is not outpacing the proliferation of the threat and the United States is still playing catch-up, says Avlon.

Source: John P. Avlon, "The Cyber-Threat Grows," City Journal, November 2009.

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