Cyberterrorism vs. WMD

Perhaps in an Orwellian society where computers are independant and there is very little human-to-computer interaction could a cyberterrorist cause such an impact as to be equal with a weapon of mass destruction. This is not true, however, regarding the technology of today. According to James Lewis (2002) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “cyber attacks are less effective and less disruptive than physical attacks. Their only advantage is that they are cheaper and easier to carry out than a physical attack” (p. 2). Studies of the implementation of efforts to reduce the effectiveness of infrastructure during war show a resiliency that is poorly respected. Redundant systems in conjunction with a focused human response provides mitigation to reduce the impact of disruptive efforts on infrastructure (Wilson, 2005). It seems the more important the system, the larger and focalized the response.

The northeast blackout of 2003 provides a decent case study, although the cause was a systems failure and not related to terrorism. According to the article by Minkle (2008), within an hour and a half, 50-million subscribers lost power in eight states and parts of Canada for a few days, yet it only contributed to about 11 deaths within the affected area. While the impact was significant, geographically, it was more or less a nuisance for most people.


Lewis, J. A. (2002, December). Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from

Minkle, J. R. (2008, August 13). The 2003 northeast blackout — five years later. Scientific American. Retrieved from

Wilson, C. (2005, April 1). Computer attack and cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and policy issues for Congress (CRS Congressional report No. RL32114). Retrieved from