Could hackers devastate the U.S. economy?

Image used under the GNU Free Documentation License ­Contrary to what some action movies or espionage novels might depict, it’s impossible for hackers to wreak havoc on a major installation like the Hoover Dam.

Cyber Attacks in the United States

Clearly, the United States faces a lot of security holes in its Internet infrastructure, despite the government's efforts to shore up security. But do these security lapses translate into "Die Hard"-style mayhem and destruction? Not quite. No one died in the cyber attacks on Estonia, nor is there a record of anyone ever having been killed because of a cyber attack or a computer being hacked. Some terrorist groups have expressed a desire to launch Internet-based attacks, but the main concerns actually revolve around criminal gangs that extort companies for money and angry hackers trying to make a statement (as with Estonia).

Improving security, redundancy systems, monitoring software and human oversight make it virtually impossible for cyber attacks to inflict large-scale physical casualties, or even any at all. Military systems in particular are considered quite secure, so ICBMs aren't going to be launched by an 11-year old in Beijing. Nuclear weapons, as with many other critical or classified systems, aren't even connected to the Internet [Source: Washington Monthly].

Estonia showed us that the possibility of economic damage is real, especially if hackers could shut off power supplies or infiltrate a major bank or the stock market. But in many cases, it's much easier for a hacker to gain entry into a system or network than to do any actual damage while inside. Also, the presence of well-trained human staff and proprietary systems at utilities and other vital systems means that any problems can be quickly dealt with. In the meantime, the main dangers to cyber security remain in the form of worms, viruses, Trojan horse programs and the exploitation of security flaws, all of which continue to cause billions of dollars in losses to private industry every year.

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