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A Major Cyber Attack Could Be Just as Deadly as Nuclear Weapons, Says Scientist


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A U.S. atomic test on Bikini Atoll in 1946.

A major cyberattack could be just as damaging as a nuclear attack, according to Jeremy Straub, an assistant professor of computer science at North Dakota State University.

Credit: National Security Archive/George Washington University

People around the world may be worried about nuclear tensions rising, but I think they're missing the fact that a major cyberattack could be just as damaging – and hackers are already laying the groundwork.

With the U.S. and Russia pulling out of a key nuclear weapons pact – and beginning to develop new nuclear weapons – plus Iran tensions and North Korea again test-launching missiles, the global threat to civilization is high. Some fear a new nuclear arms race.

That threat is serious – but another could be as serious, and is less visible to the public. So far, most of the well-known hacking incidents, even those with foreign government backing, have done little more than steal data.

Unfortunately, there are signs that hackers have placed malicious software inside U.S. power and water systems, where it's lying in wait, ready to be triggered. The U.S. military has also reportedly penetrated the computers that control Russian electrical systems.

Many intrusions already

As someone who studies cybersecurity and information warfare, I'm concerned that a cyberattack with widespread impact, an intrusion in one area that spreads to others or a combination of lots of smaller attacks, could cause significant damage, including mass injury and death rivaling the death toll of a nuclear weapon.

Unlike a nuclear weapon, which would vaporize people within 100 feet and kill almost everyone within a half-mile, the death toll from most cyberattacks would be slower. People might die from a lack of food, power or gas for heat or from car crashes resulting from a corrupted traffic light system. This could happen over a wide area, resulting in mass injury and even deaths.

 

From Science Alert
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