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Experts: Devastating U.S. Cyber-Attack Within 10 Years

  |  January 9, 2005   |  Comments

Threat of future terrorist activity likely to increase government and corporate surveillance.

The U.S. will suffer at least one devastating attack to its national information network or power grid in the next 10 years. That's what two-thirds of expert respondents to a survey conducted by Pew Internet & American Life and Elon University believe.

The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. It interviewed a non-random sample of 1,286 Internet authorities identified by Elon and Pew in a prior project.

How Respondents Assessed Predictions
Click on image to see full survey
Of the several themes covered in the survey, from how the American family will be affected by continuing growth of the Web to how classroom instruction will change, the topic with the greatest consensus across the widest variety of respondents was the threat of an attack on or through the U.S. Internet, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"The way we framed the question, using the word 'devastating' was intentionally provocative to generate discussion," Rainie said. "What's surprising is the number of experts with the general sense that the more important the Internet becomes over time, the more juicy of a target it will become for terrorists and people wishing to do harm."

Respondents to the survey outlined several types of threats, including physical attacks to central parts of the Internet's infrastructure, and cyber-terrorist attacks on vulnerabilities in key utilities and industries like banking. Other respondents said the nation's networks will continue to be vulnerable to ever more dangerous viruses, worms, so-called Trojan horses, and other kinds of malicious code.

"We have hundreds of thousands of people working to guarantee the security of our networked information infrastructure," said Janna Anderson, co-author of the report. "But the conclusion we must face is that there can be no ultimate security. Hackers will always find a way around security measures put in place to stop them."

In order for the government to confront the danger of future attacks, it necessarily will infringe more on Americans' privacy. One finding of the report is large corporations may follow the government's lead in order to obtain more information about customers: their activities, buying habits, likes and dislikes, both on- and off-line.

"Both the government and corporations are growing more able to intrude on our lives in new ways a lot of people in the public aren't aware of," said Anderson. "They are able to collect more information about our behavior on- and offline that is stored in increasingly large databases."

Anderson cited Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID define) installed in all WalMart merchandise as one example of the kinds of embedded devices already sparking privacy concerns among respondents polled in the survey

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