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E-terrorism: Digital myth or true threat?

special report Doomsday predictions of a "digital Pearl Harbor" have persisted in the year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Yet have digital myths diverted attention from true threats?


By Robert Lemos, John Borland,
Lisa Bowman and Sandeep Junnarkar
Staff Writers, CNET
August 26, 2002, 4:00 AM PT

Doomsday predictions of a "digital Pearl Harbor" have persisted in the year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The specter was a driving force behind controversial new law enforcement measures portrayed as necessary by the government but decried by civil libertarians as an assault on constitutional rights to privacy. Yet security experts, network managers and public safety officials say privately that the threat of cyberterrorism has been overblown and misunderstood--and that physical attacks remain far easier to carry out.

As a result, government officials and industry leaders may have spent needless effort addressing an arguably nonexistent enemy at a time when all resources are needed to guard against more realistic dangers. In this three-day special report, CNET reporters in New York, San Francisco and Washington examine the technological and political realities of this volatile issue.

Safety: Assessing the risks

Safety: Assessing the risks
Countless urban legends have been circulated about possible cyberterrorism, involving everything from water supplies to power grids. But while security experts agree that risks do exist, they say any digital attack would be measured in loss of data, not life.
Politics: Security vs. liberties
No prosecutions under new security laws have been reported, but critics say aggressive investigations and public overreaction have had a chilling effect on personal freedoms. In an instant, Sept. 11 reversed years-long momentum to protect online privacy.
Lessons: Networks as lifelines
The communications breakdown at Ground Zero revealed the risks of concentrating networks in one place--but, after a century of haphazard growth, the system is impossible to uproot. Manhattan is a case study for cities facing similar problems worldwide.
Download the PDF version
Read all three days of this report now. Free registration required.
Editors: Mike Yamamoto, Lara Wright
Art: Pam Dore, Ellen Ng
Production: Mike Markovich, Ben Helm