Internet Terrorism - Security Holes and Cyberterrorism

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Internet Security Holes and Cyberterrorism

Abstract: This paper investigates and substantiates the potential for hackers to cause damage in the physical world. A fictional case study is provided along with an analysis of past, present, and future technological threats. The combination of a historic apathy towards computer security and an increased reliance on technology may soon lead to a real-world "cybercatastrophe".

I first learned about computer hacking from an article featured in the New York Times magazine several years ago. It described the life of members of a hacking group known as L0pht. They were neither benign nor malicious; they would simply look for holes in software products and post the results on the Internet. The group's purpose was not to aid hackers or protect corporations, but rather to hack as a matter of fact. The article has stuck in my mind ever since. It inspired me to consider the implications of a malicious group discovering holes in critical software. The attack described below is a worst-case scenario, but given enough ignorance and apathy, conceivable. In the case analysis, I investigate the historical precedent of similar events, and the risk of this type of disaster in the present and future.


In January of 2004, the Microsoft Corporation released Windows 2004 Server Edition. The newest implementation of Microsoft's popular operating system was capable of running on not only computers, but hundreds of devices from anything as small as a cellular phone to automobiles, trains, and elevators. Despite strenuous programmer precautions, an obscure susceptibility within the code provided hackers with the ability to access any networked device. Specifically, it allowed...

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...l and don't have a lot of resources to affect our communications networks, to steal information, to get root control, to shut things down. It doesn't take a great intuitive leap to assume that this could be employed for other purposes3." To protect ourselves from the future would require making the virtual world at least as safe as the physical world, and at present, this is simply not happening.

Based on the evidence gathered in researching this report, the possibility of physical disaster created through the virtual world is a probability. Without a greater sense of caution from those who design the networks of today and tomorrow, we will be vulnerable to the type of attack described in the case study. Though it is somewhat fantastic, it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility. Computer hackers constitute a substantial threat to human life.
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