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The NSA Claims It Foiled a Foreign Plot to Destroy the U.S. Economy


"BIOS attack."

A senior National Security Agency official said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday that the federal government recently thwarted an attack that could have collapsed the United States’ economy.

President Obama welcomes Chinese President Hu Jintao during a State Arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, Jan. 19, 2011. (Getty Images)

The cyber attack it claims to have stopped would have trashed (i.e. "bricked") computers all across the country. Considering how closely U.S. infrastructure and Wall Street are connected to computers, a massive cyber attack could lead to disaster for the U.S. and global economy.

But here's the real takeaway from Sunday's revelation: Although the NSA wouldn’t say who was responsible for the alleged attack, CBS News said all fingers point to China

“(C)yber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was China,” CBS said in the report.

The NSA claims the attack, which is more commonly referred to as a "BIOS attack," was warded off with the help of computer manufacturers.

“One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver — to actually use this capability — to destroy computers,” Debora Plunkett, director of cyber defense for the NSA, told CBS News, according to a transcript of the report made available by Business Insider.

“To destroy computers?” CBS News’ John Miller asked.

“To destroy computers. So the BIOS is a basic input/output system. It's, like, the foundational component firmware of a computer. You start your computer up. The BIOS kicks in. It activates hardware. It activates the operating system. It turns on the computer,” Plunkett explained. “This is the BIOS system which starts most computers. The attack would have been disguised as a request for a software update. If the user agreed, the virus would’ve infected the computer.”

Simply put, this would have gone into the computer system to tell it what to do. From there, the attack can turn the computer into a “brick,” as Plunkett put it.

“Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy,” the NSA director said. “Don't be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.”

Had the attack not been caught and stopped, Plunkett added, it probably would have worked.

Now it's no secret that cyber attacks have the potential to cause great harm to the United States’ economy. However, as Business Insider’s Geoffrey Ingersoll rightly notes, it’s who’s suspected of being behind that attempted BIOS attack that should have us concerned.

A cyber “attack occurred last year, when a militant group called ‘The Cutting Sword of Justice’ launched an attack on a Saudi oil company, Aramco, which disabled the hard drives of 30,000 computers, destroying all stored data,” Ingersoll wrote, adding “experts and analysts largely don't expect massive cyber attacks from the world's largest nations due to the interconnectivity of the global economy.”

If China is indeed behind the alleged BIOS attack --  as opposed to, say, a small militant group upset about “income inequality -- then that would be a major and unprecedented development.

(H/T: Business Insider)


Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter


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