AT NewsMax: “Cybercrime, Terrorism, & the Financial System”

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The menace of cybercrime reared its ugly head last month when hackers made off with $100 million from Bangladesh’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The South Asian nation is now pursing legal action against the Federal Reserve, who denies any culpability in the case.

Welcome to the new landscape of crime. Last year 178 million online records of American businesses and individuals were breached, including the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. The personal data of over 21 million people, by the way, was stolen in that hack.

And the year before that, both JPMorgan Chase and HSBC Holdings were also successfully attacked. Across the pond, Great Britain is fending off similar threats. In January the UK’s central bank revealed it’s facing “advanced, persistent and evolving” dangers from hackers.

Up to now the guilty parties in these crimes have tended to be tech savvy thieves, mischievous teenagers, or malicious hackers. But this wave of cybercrime has laid the groundwork for a far more pernicious and destructive form of cyber-attack. If and when terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram, or even rogue or hostile nations truly develop the capacity, they will use the cyber landscape to wreak untold havoc.

That’s because these groups are driven by ideology and fanaticism rather than a lust for money or mischief. As a result, their targets will be bigger; their ultimate goals will be total chaos and destruction.

ISIS is already busy at work trying to hack into America’s power companies. The Islamic State even has its own hacking division that has obtained and published the personal information of U.S. military members as part of a “kill list.” al Qaeda has called for an “electric jihad” against the west. And just last week the Justice Department issued wanted notices for a pack of Iranian hackers who targeted a dam in New York and several other civil targets in 2013.

Cyberterrorism, is no longer a hypothetical. It’s here.

True, the capacity of groups like ISIS is still wanting, but there is no denying their lethal intent. And one of the most convenient avenues for those ambitions is likely going to be attacks on our increasingly digitized financial system. And such an attack paired with both cyber and physical strikes on other infrastructure targets could potentially bring the country to its knees, a scenario former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has described as a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

In December even the normally gridlocked Congress responded to this gathering threat by passing a cyber security bill as part of the trillion-dollar omnibus. However, free market groups and civil liberties advocates, citing the expansive and undefined powers the bill grants federal officials, are already calling for its repeal.

Which brings us to the question of how best to defend against cyber threats without granting the government even more broad and unspecified powers at the expense of its citizens’ privacy.

Individuals would do well to keep some precious metal bullion coins, cash, and alternative currencies like Bitcoin on hand in case the financial system succumbs to an attack.

And new financial technologies – a new form of counterfeit proof digital currency that researchers are putting the finishing touches don at MIT, for example, hints at broader potential solutions.

But many more are needed. Hacking is likely the next front in the war against terror. The West needs to plan accordingly.

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