Nothing has ever changed the world as quickly as the
Internet has. Less than a decade ago, "60 Minutes" went to the
Pentagon to do a story on something called information warfare, or cyber
war as some people called it. It involved using computers and the Internet
Much of it was still theory, but we were told that before too long it
might be possible for a hacker with a computer to disable critical
infrastructure in a major city and disrupt essential services, to steal
millions of dollars from banks all over the world, infiltrate defense
systems, extort millions from public companies, and even sabotage our
Today it's not only possible, all of that has actually happened, plus a
lot more we don't even know about.
It's why President Obama has made cyber war defense a top national
priority and why some people are already saying that the next big war is
less likely to begin with a bang than a blackout.
"Can you imagine your life without electric power?" Retired Admiral Mike
McConnell asked correspondent Steve Kroft.
Until February of this year, McConnell was the nation's top spy. As chief
of national intelligence, he oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency, the
Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Few people
know as much about cyber warfare, and our dependency on the power grid,
and the computer networks that deliver our oil and gas, pump and purify
our water, keep track of our money, and operate our transportation
"If I were an attacker and I wanted to do strategic damage to the United
States, I would either take the cold of winter or the heat of summer, I
probably would sack electric power on the U.S. East Cost, maybe the West
Coast, and attempt to cause a cascading effect. All of those things are in
the art of the possible from a sophisticated attacker," McConnell
"Do you believe our adversaries have the capability of bringing down a
power grid?" Kroft asked.
"I do," McConnell replied.
Asked if the U.S. is prepared for such an attack, McConnell told Kroft,
"No. The United States is not prepared for such an attack."
"It is now clear this cyber threat is one [of] the most serious economic
and national security challenges we face as a nation," President Obama
said during a speech.
Four months after taking office, Obama made those concerns part of our
national defense policy, declaring the country's digital infrastructure a
strategic asset, and confirming that cyber warfare had moved beyond
"We know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid, and that in
other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness,"
the president said.
President Obama didn't say which country had been plunged into darkness,
but a half a dozen sources in the military, intelligence, and private
security communities have told us the president was referring to Brazil.
Several prominent intelligence sources confirmed that there were a series
of cyber attacks in Brazil: one north of Rio de Janeiro in January 2005
that affected three cities and tens of thousands of people, and another,
much larger event beginning on Sept. 26, 2007.
That one in the state of Espirito Santo affected more than three million
people in dozens of cities over a two-day period, causing major
disruptions. In Vitoria, the world's largest iron ore producer had seven
plants knocked offline, costing the company $7 million. It is not clear
who did it or what the motive was.
But the people who do these sorts of things are no longer teenagers making
mischief. They're now likely to be highly trained soldiers with the
Chinese army or part of an organized crime group in Russia, Europe or the
"They can disrupt critical infrastructure, wipe databases. We know they
can rob banks. So, it's a much bigger and more serious threat," explained
Jim Lewis, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Lewis led a group that prepared a major report on cyber security for
"What was it that made the government begin to take this seriously?" Kroft
"In 2007 we probably had our electronic Pearl Harbor. It was an espionage
Pearl Harbor," Lewis said. "Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we
don't know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the
Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department
of Energy, probably NASA. They broke into all of the high tech agencies,
all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information."
How much is a terabyte?
"The Library of Congress, which has millions of volumes, is about 12
terabytes. So, we probably lost the equivalent of a Library of Congress
worth of government information in 2007," Lewis explained.
"All stolen by foreign countries?" Kroft asked.
"Yeah. This was a serious attack. And that's really what made people wake
up and say, 'Hey, we've got to get a grip on this,'" Lewis said.