The GAO (Government Accountability Office) report from October 2011 stated that all of the 24 federal agencies the office reviewed had information security weaknesses. “…reports of security incidents from federal agencies are on the rise, increasing over 650 percent over the past 5 years,” says the report. This suggests the dire need for more cyber security experts and more training to repair these weaknesses.
The documentary Hackers Wanted discusses existing or potential attacks taking place in the virtual world. To put it simply, the situation is terrifying. Dr. Dorothy Denning (author of Information Warfare & Security) explains that since our entire infrastructure, from electrical and water treatment facilities to emergency dispatch systems and stock markets, is run by computers, they are at risk of being disrupted or destroyed.
Dr. John Arquilla (author of Networks and Netwars) adds, “Sometimes though [cyber terror] could leap outside of the virtual realm to the physical world, such as when for example automated controls on power systems are attacked and then they cause power outages or they cause dams to burst or pipe lines to cease their flows. There is if you will an increasing interconnection between the virtual and the physical world and this is the realm of the cyber terrorist”.
The documentary also provides interesting insight into the term “hacker” – the history of how the word arose and how it has been misunderstood. Not all hackers are bad. White hat hackers in fact are ethical hackers who may work for a company or agency to identify vulnerabilities in order to prevent unethical hackers from penetrating. Black hat hackers or crackers are those with malicious motives, from stealing identities for financial gain to engaging in cyber warfare. In the middle there lies gray hat hackers – sometimes referred to as the Robin Hood of the virtual world or vigilantes – who breaks into a company or agency’s systems to identify weaknesses and then informs those companies or agencies so that they can safeguard their systems. Hackers Wanted profiles a popular gray hat hacker, Adrian Lamo, who hacked into Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, The New York Times and others while simply surfing web pages from coffee shop and Kinko’s terminals.
Dr. Arquilla discusses the potential for a particularly horrifying scenario – a combination of cyber and biological warfare. The documentary makers hypothetically posit if hackers shut down the electrical grid in New York City, causing millions instead of thousands to walk the streets since the subways would be shut down, then they could be easily infected by a deadly disease carried by virus-bearing terrorists walking among the crowds.