Some experts say cyberterrorism is very unlikely

Friday, 14 February 2003, 12:37 AM EST

For years, government Internet experts have warned a "cyberterrorism" attack could steal national secrets, interrupt electric power, disrupt flight control systems, or worse, amounting to "an electronic Pearl Harbor."

But these days, a less alarmist viewpoint is emerging from experts who say the comparison is overblown. They liken the cyberterrorism threat to the approach of the Y2K bug, which featured much-publicized warnings of worldwide computer malfunctions that never materialized.

"There are security problems on the Internet, but they are not a threat to national security," said James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. That's because America's important computer networks, "are more distributed, diverse, redundant and self-healing than a cursory assessment may suggest," Lewis said.

What's more, he says, attacks on water treatment and power plants, dams, nuclear weapons laboratories and commercial aircraft flight control systems are unlikely because the computer systems running them are complex, sometimes old and, in some cases, not connected to the Internet.

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