A successful terrorist attack on America's financial infrastructure could bring the US and global economies to a standstill, and the real surprise is that it hasn't been attempted yet.
"We've gone after al-Qaeda's finances, and it would strike me that in a sense, we can expect retaliation in kind," Dr Phil Williams said during his keynote address at the annual conference of the Centre for Conflict Studies at the University of New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada.
Williams says the attack, when and if it comes, would likely focus on what he calls key nodes in the US financial infrastructure: Fedwire and Fednet. Fedwire is the financial funds transfer system that money exchange among US banks, while Fednet is the electronic network that handles the transactions. The system has one primary installation and three backups.
"You can find out on the Internet where the backups are. If those could be taken out by a mix of cyber and physical activities, the US economy would basically come to a halt," Williams said. If the takedown were to include the international funds transfer networks CHIPS and SWIFT then the entire global economy could be thrown into chaos.
"I don't think we've seen major cyber-terror yet but I think it's only a matter of time," Williams said. Other likely targets are air traffic control systems, river systems or dams, and the production of pharmaceuticals, all of which are computer controlled.
Williams is Director of the Program on Terrorism and Trans-National Crime at the University of Pittsburgh.
Among the 100-plus delegates who attended the conference were members of law enforcement, security agencies, academics and several described simply as spies. ®
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