Tom Allard
The Age
April 20, 2008

In cyberspace they can’t hear you scream

It’s been dubbed “cybergeddon”, the “digital mushroom cloud”.

What would happen if well-organised hackers – criminal syndicates, agents of hostile nation-states or terrorists – disabled the computer networks that sustain the critical infrastructure of modern societies?

For Michael Chertoff, the head of the US Department of Homeland Security, the threat is real, and likely to get worse. And he’s not shy of offering some alarming examples of how such a devastating attack could unfold.

“Imagine, if you will, a sophisticated attack on our financial systems that caused them to be paralysed,” Chertoff told a security conference in San Francisco this month. “It would shake the foundation of trust on which our financial system works.”

Or what if terrorists launched a successful cyber sortie that penetrated the air traffic control system and immobilised it or, even worse, enabled hackers to direct planes to slam into each other or into the ground.

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