Analysis

A “Cyber Pearl Harbor”: A Real and Growing Threat
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks through a centrifuge hall at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in April 2008. The Stuxnet computer virus reportedly caused significant damage to many of these centrifuge machines in 2009 or 2010. (Photo by the Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Getty Images)
March 20, 2012
| Security
| Middle East and North Africa
Summary
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In recent years, a wave of highly sophisticated computer viruses and cyber attacks has created new security threats that policymakers and analysts are just beginning to understand. The greatest concern is that the United States will be suddenly struck by a “cyber Pearl Harbor” — an event that could shut down or destroy significant parts of the nation’s digital-based infrastructure. LIGNET takes a closer look at a real and growing threat that has not received the attention it deserves.

Could the unthinkable happen?  The answer is yes.  For years the major fear was a “nuclear Pearl Harbor,” but that concern was mitigated by the guarantee of an equally potent counterattack against the perpetrator.  In the case of a large cyber attack on the United States, it might be difficult or impossible to identify who was responsible for it, as shown plainly enough by the anonymous success of the now famous Stuxnet virus.

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