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Just imagine – the ATMs don’t work and neither do the credit cards, debit cards, instant pay accounts, direct deposit, electronic checks or PayPal. That would be only some of the problems in one sector if our digital infrastructure fails under enemy attack. In fact, nothing that connects to the Internet will work as designed and that is almost everything these days.  The problem is that the Internet and each device can be used as a weapon against itself.  

A recent online article described a massive denial-of-service (DoS) attack using devices that were part of the internet of things (IoT); basically any “smart” device from buildings to refrigerators — to you name it — that can connect to the net. How many are in use? The estimate is more than 6 billion and the evil-doers for money or malice have been able to line them up as echo chambers flooding any Internet address they wanted to bring down.

Other attacks have involved ransomware, a form of blackmail where the perpetrator encrypts databases and demands payment to unlock the files. In a full system attack there will be no request for ransom; just a lockout.

A shut down from electronic attack is only one scenario. In addition to electronic attack the net is vulnerable to physical attack. A few years ago someone went down a manhole at a key Internet node in Central California and just cut the wires taking down that entire region.

These serious issues are mere pinpricks compared to the damage that would be done by a coordinated, targeted, attack sponsored by a nation-state. It would lead to a nationwide economic freeze and eventually what could be a financial and social crash. Then, just like the 9/11 attack, we will be saying, “How did that happen?” but it will be too late.

The threat is the Net’s connectivity, which can be attacked with imagination coupled with technical know-how. Imagination and knowledge, not nuclear warheads, are the most powerful weapons possessed by humans.

It is long overdue for government at all levels to make protection of the nation’s digital infrastructure priority one.