Virtually Helpless

Thursday, 12 September 2002, 12:34 AM EST

Without bombs, bullets, or missiles—without even setting foot on U.S. soil— cyberterrorists could disable the nation's phone systems, plunge cities into blackout, sever water supplies, scramble military communications, steal classified files, clog emergency-response lines, cripple highways, and ground planes. By commandeering vulnerable home PCs and using them to bombard the servers that make modern life possible, they could shutter our markets and take out key links like the Federal Reserve, which every day transfers $2 trillion over the wires. With a few keystrokes, they could wreak damage on a scale not easily imagined, and for pennies on the dollar.

The best intelligence suggests that the next major military strike by the Bush administration, now drumming up support for an imminent war on Iraq, will draw in response an equally intense virtual assault. A report by Dartmouth College's Institute for Security Technology Studies examined cyberwar overseas—with particular attention to the conflicts in Serbia and the Middle East—and concluded that virtual onslaughts "immediately accompany physical attacks." By the logic of that analysis, if Bush moves on Saddam Hussein after the midterm elections, we would see the first full-on blitz before Christmas.

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