900 Seconds: Cyber Attack Wouldn’t Take Long to Bring Down the USA

by | May 12, 2010 | Headline News | 14 comments

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    With our increasing dependence on the internet to transmit everything from emails and electronic payment information to air traffic control and transportation logistics, a properly targeted cyber attack could wreck havoc in the United States within minutes, says Richard Clark:

    In his warning, Mr Clarke paints a doomsday scenario in which the problems start with the collapse of one of Pentagon’s computer networks.

    Soon internet service providers are in meltdown. Reports come in of large refinery fires and explosions in Philadelphia and Houston. Chemical plants malfunction, releasing lethal clouds of chlorine.

    Air traffic controllers report several mid-air collisions, while subway trains crash in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. More than 150 cities are suddenly blacked out. Tens of thousands of Americans die in an attack comparable to a nuclear bomb in its devastation.

    Yet it would take no more than 15 minutes and involve not a single terrorist or soldier setting foot in the United States.

    An enemy of the United States, whether foreign or domestic, wouldn’t need a nuclear bomb. They would simply need to take down the main computer networks. Many internet operations are centralized, especially in the private sector, so taking down something like the national DNS (Domain Name System) databases would put a stop to pretty much any communications used by the general public. An attack on Defense Department networks would be even more serious, potentially leading to a cascading effect across the entire nation.

    Utilities, like water systems and electricity, are highly vulnerable, as they are built on very old technologies and are very dependent on each other due to old-style distribution systems. As an example, consider the massive black out that covered the entire north east for several days in 2003 while emergency crews worked to resolve the problems. Roughly one fifth of our country was out of power not because local power stations were taken down, but, according to the official story, because one or two main plants experienced outages due to natural causes (trees on power lines). There is still no definitive confirmation on what happened here, and for all we know this could have been a cyber attack testing our networks.

    It’s no secret that hackers in countries like Russia, and especially China, have spent the last decade infiltrating and testing the stability and security of US networks – including the Pentagon and our satellite systems. At the first sign of potential international conflict, the initial wave of attacks will likely occur on the digital battlefield, resulting in downed communication systems, utilities, cable systems, GPS, cell phone networks, hardline networks and transaction processing systems.

    Another issue, not related directly to defense computer networks, is that the plans for US water utility, electrical utility, and internet networks are readily available on the internet for anyone to download and analyze for vulnerabilities. We’ve essentially given any potential enemies a road map for how to bring down the United States without even firing a shot.


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      1. An interesting datapoint in support of this topic is what happened last week when the market crashed that afternoon.  I was unaware of what was going on, but happened to be on my PC (at a Fortune 100 company) and could not get access to Yahoo Finance, Fox News, Bloomberg, CNN or several other sites.  I then checked my iPhone and found that I could not get stock updates, nor could I get any internet response from my Bloomberg app, my Yahoo Finance app, nor several other apps which pull info from the web.  All of this caused by a simple 1000 point drop in a still-functioning market!  Like the article implies, imagine how bad it would be, and how quickly it could collapse if a real, actual emergency happened.  We are certainly at the mercy of the web nowadays.

      2. Hopefully, DOD and the Secretary of Homeland Security are securing our cyber border since they are not securing our real borders.

      3. Did the Chinese forget to put up a notice on the markets last weeks. “This Is Only a Test” of the chinese national hacker network? If you have stocks, bonds and mutual funds do you really think you could logon or call your broker before it was all over? What if your life savings is in a 401K, ESOP, TSA or other pension plan and you don’t even know your trading rules like most Americans? Though you were trying to save your lifes savings you would wind up selling low and buying high. Proof positive, you can’t time the market and you can’t beat the programmed trading. The pros always win either way, up or down. I don’t give advise, but I’m all out of the markets, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and parked on the side lines. If your in a pension plan know your trading rules!!! 

      4. So everyone’s lists of possible triggers which could lead to TEOTWAWKI should now look like this:
        Cyber attack
        Biological attack
        Nuclear attack
        Viral pandemic
        Terrorism of some sort
        Race wars
        Foreign invasion
        Currency event
        Cataclysmic environmental disaster
        Martial law/FEMA camp roundup
        Civil War II
        Second coming of Jesus Christ

      5. Heck of a list Sanity… I might use that for our new “Scenarios” section coming soon to an SHTF Plan near you.

      6. sanityjones – I agree, excellent list, except one glaring omission:

        The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!

      7. the last line says…

        “We’ve essentially given any potential enemies a road map for how to bring down the United States without even firing a shot.”

        The biggest threat, the bankers, do not need it.  Any attack from anyone else would only help the people to stop the bankers by disconnecting the sheep from their systems.

      8. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!………..

        Well Patrick, believe it or not, I did include the Marshmallow man in my initial draft;  right along side  Darth Vader. However after lengthy review I am sufficiently convinced that the Marshmallow man was indeed fully destroyed in the conclusion of Ghostbusters. It would be inconceivable for any creature composed mainly of marshmallows  to survive the crossing of the beams. I am just as certain of the defeat and demise of the evil overlord Darth Vader, having seen the movie 14 times in the last three months. My postulation is further validated by the fact that both of these movies are quite old yet no sequels have been produced which have attempted to resurrect these villains, thus pointing to the inevitable conclusion that both Darth and Stay Puft may indeed be beyond the reach of even the Hollywood elite.  I do hope my arguments are sufficient to alleviate your concerns in this matter and you may now concentrate on more pressing issues; such as the Micheline Man. Now there is a worthy adversary……..

      9. In some ways I believe that we would be better off if this happened.
        True,we would be sent back to the 19th century,but we would have gardens in our yards,fresh produce on every corner for those without gardens,barter and trade along with gold and silver would quickly be used.
        We would also be in better shape from working with our hands,walking,etc.(most cases of diabetes from obesity would be gone)
        The parasitic savage class that is amongst us would perish from stupidity,violence and threats to their lives by the gun owning civilized citizens.
        Living in south FL, I have experienced several power outages from hurricanes and have found using oil lamps to be quite pleasant,I could unplug from the grid & live like that full time saving $2500. per year except my wife likes hot showers.

        Although it would be a violent transition,I say lets have it,it would kill the pentagram’s military industrial complex and the idiots in Washington would lose control of us and could hardly tax our incomes.
        The 19th century is something we should strive for,an EMP may just be a blessing in disguise.

      10. mmm..interesting, i heard Protemac netMine good prog for protection computer…

      11. would taking down the national dns really affect much? after all, all a dns does is translate a web address into an ip address. couldnt we just type in the ip address manually? sorry for the bad grammer, my droid wouldnt open full text support for your comments system.

      12. Nuthin’ a few mindless rounds of “Yes we can” (“Yes, we have no bananas” works just as efficiently, BTW), won’t solve.

        Meanwhile, this nutcase shooter in AZ. is a **confirmed** leftist, as indicated by several friends on Twitter, was a dedicated atheist. and had Communist Manifesto as one of his favourite books… and the disgusting left wing media/Pravda  tries to put this on Palin and the Tea Party. The reality? Should be put on incitement from Bill Maher and Keith Olberman

      13. Yes, but no one has every officially confirmed the death of Ghidorah. Who can easily control the others like Mothra, Gamera, and Rodan and take down the entire country with nobody but Jet Jaguar and Giant Robot to stop them.

        Optimus Prime was going to jump in, but someone put a boot on his wheel.

        Despair. The end is very nigh.

      14. If it would, by this expert’s estimation, take 900 seconds to bring down the US alone, how long would it take to bring down the rest of the world?

        Yes, there are backup plans in place to keep things running, but it could take months to implement them; they could be permanently lost if digitally stored. Even cultures that don’t use computer technology would be affected due to the global trade blackout that would ensue from world-wide compromise of computing systems.


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