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Once Again, a Catastrophic Homeland Attack May Loom

October 27, 2010
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A devastating terror attack that would cripple the United States could happen as soon as tomorrow. However, unlike the events of 9/11, this attack would take place in cyberspace and involve accounting figures, not any physical plant. That gloomy assessment was offered by Adm. Mike McConnell, USN (Ret.), executive vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton and former director of national intelligence (DNI). Giving the Wednesday plenary address at TechNet Asia-Pacific 2010, Adm. McConnell shared with the audience how his concerns over the vulnerability of the banking sector date back to when he was named DNI by then-President George W. Bush. Putting the threat in perspective, Adm. McConnell noted that the United States has a $14 billion economy. Two banks in New York move $7 billion in one single day. This money is data moving electronically, and even those banks' backup systems are connected. This makes all that data vulnerable to cyberspace attack, and the results of a successful terror attack would be devastating. This type of attack can be prevented, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have taken some steps toward addressing it. However, the admiral sees three potential scenarios developing in sequence: first, the country talks about what needs to be done, but never gets around to doing it. Then, as a consequence, the United States suffers a catastrophic event. Third, with history as a guide, the country overreacts. This could be avoided with effective action in as little as one year, he offers. It will require a legal framework to empower necessary policies. Ultimately, the United States may develop a "dot-secure" cyber realm in which the vital infrastructure operates outside of public Internet access, he suggested.

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