A successful one is generally seen as targeting vulnerable computers and making them malfunction or resulting in disrupted flows of data that disable businesses, financial institutions, medical institutions, and government agencies. For example, cyber exploits that alter credit card transaction data at e-commerce Websites could cause the altered information to spread into banking systems—thus eroding public confidence in the financial sector. The same rippling effect could be seen in computer systems used for global commerce. In short, a cyber attack has the potential to create extreme economic damage that is out of proportion to the relatively low cost of initiating the attack.
Cyber attacks can also target applications and databases. It is important to know that some of the most successful cyber attacks have not disrupted data or the computer’s functioning; instead, they involve information theft with little evidence of the attack being left behind.
Although some security experts believe that terrorists will shy away from using cyber attacks to create havoc against a targeted nation because it would involve less drama and media attention as compared to a physical bombing or a chemical attack, thus saving the Internet for surveillance and espionage, other experts believe that terrorists could induce a coordinated terrorist attack using the Internet and bringing down critical infrastructures. The result could be a cyber Apocalypse.
Wilson, C. CRS Report for Congress: Computer Attack and Cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for Congress. [Online, October 17, 2003.] CRS Report Website. http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/RL32114.pdf.