Digital Risks and Digital Defenders
Reuben is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) recently disclosed that its computers had been hacked. This very prominent technology name follows on so many other companies that it almost seems like just another victim. However, the United States' infrastructure goes well beyond just electric wires and power plants, it includes all things digital, too. If Microsoft can't protect itself is there any company that can?
President Obama recently stepped up and called for the United States to protect itself against cyber attacks. Add to this a report tracing recent attacks back to a Chinese military building, and everyone should be thinking about just how bad a cyber attack could be.
The big concern has been this country's infrastructure. Certainly it is important to protect such things as telephone communication, air traffic control, and the electric grid. If any of these were to collapse under an attack our country would quickly grind to a halt.
The technology infrastructure
However, look past the basic infrastructure and things could be just as bad. Microsoft has its hands in so many facets of the world today that it is as vital as electric power. Really? Yes! The vast majority of personal computers today run on Microsoft's operating systems, new or old. Its Office software suite is a core business tool that almost every company, big and small, uses.
Imagine if the hacking attack was not, in fact, corporate espionage, but a military episode. If a foreign attacker could identify a way to cripple the Microsoft operating system or Microsoft Office, it would send shock waves around the world.
Apple (NADAQ:AAPL) is another company who's systems have been attacked recently. While Apple's influence probably isn't as wide spread as Microsoft's, it clearly has a notable footprint in the mobile world with its iPhone, iTouch, and iPad devices. That's a frightening thought if you imagine a scenario where a foreign attacker takes down the Apple mobile operating system.
The idea here is bigger than someone trying to steal some personal information from your phone. Imagine that every iPhone just stops working. Many would find they had lost the ability to function because so much of their lives has been stored in that one device.
Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) also saw itself hacked recently. This company isn't as vital to the operation of devices as Microsoft or Apple, so the only thing at risk would be personal information. Right? Maybe not. Sure, if Facebook's service went down there would be millions upon millions of people that would feel the impact. However, their lives wouldn't stop.
But hacking isn't always about the obvious. Very often hackers use covert means to enter a system. Facebook transcends operating systems, with people all over the world using it to stay connected. So, not only does Facebook run atop Microsoft, Apple, and Google operating systems in the personal computer, tablet, and cell phone spaces, but it also connects all of those systems.
If an attacker were looking for the perfect route to quickly spread an attack, Facebook would be one of the best ways to do it. And such an attack could spread like a wild fire, with the exponential growth of an interconnected network.
Are we ready?
The thing is, if these companies are getting hacked, maybe we aren't protected as well as we should be. This, in fact, might be a good place for the military/industrial complex to branch out into the public sphere.
Northrup Grumman (NYSE: NOC) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) have both built solid capabilities in the cyber war space. Northrop lists cybersecurity second among its capabilities. Two areas of focus at the company worth noting are critical infrastructure protection and cloud security. Both of these are going to be increasingly important in the years ahead and the recent attacks only suggest that the day may be now.
Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, doesn't put its cyber capabilities front and center, but prominently highlights them under the company's Information Technology services. Two interesting notes are the company's ability to securely test wireless systems and its cyber forensics lab. The forensics lab puts the company in line to benefit from analyzing hacking attacks from the inside since it basically has a front row seat at the table. This gives the company an edge in protecting against the next attack.
No big deal...
Perhaps this is an alarmist reaction, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Sure, these attacks could be about corporate espionage, but they could also be about so much more. Now is clearly the time to do something and there are some companies that already are.
Reuben Brewer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, Google, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and Northrop Grumman. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!