"Youthful, Internet-savvy extremists might apply their online acumen to conduct cyber attacks rather than offer themselves up as operatives to conduct physical attacks.” – Homeland Security assessment, December 2008

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The day after Christmas, The Associated Press reminds us all that the real world remains threatened by terrorists around the world. And they are becoming more tech savvy.

The “Homeland Security Threat Assessment” for the next five years ought to be a “must read” for all our leaders as a new year begins. We can’t be complacent even during a recession.

I’ll never forget the answer a top Homeland Security official during a North Carolina Technology Association event when I asked what threat caused to have nightmares. A homegrown group of unknown terrorist wannabes mixing a toxic bacteriological brew in a bathtub, he said. Operating below law enforcement’s radar, such a group could cause devastation and panic with an attack using some sort of infectious agent.

Another warned that private businesses as well as government agencies must always keep their cyber guard up in order to prevent a hacking that could shut down an enterprise vital to the nation’s economy.

Add continuing focus on preventing hacking and other sabotage to the priority list corporate executives MUST maintain in 2009 even as information technology budgets shrink or stagnate.

Preventing terrorism from hackers as well as from other threats such as bioterrorism also remains continued opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking to develop tools and technology to keep us safe.

While in the eyes of many, the threat of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups has diminished, the Homeland Security report supports recent comments made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff: "The threat of terrorism and the threat of extremist ideologies has not abated. This threat has not evaporated, and we can’t turn the page on it.
Numerous companies across the Carolinas and Georgia continue to provide research and development support and technology for use in homeland security. Some recent examples:

• Parion Sciences landed an $850,000 grant to focus on development of potential treatment for people who inhale radioactive materials.

• Homeland Security provided funding for the creation of two centers in the Triangle to study the psychology behind terrorist.

• NCSU will launch a $2 million lab for testing, improving first responder protective gear

In the report, Homeland Security officials stressed that terrorists want to carry out more cyber attacks. If they can’t gain the knowledge themselves, they may outsource the job to highly talented hackers.
And the target of these attacks? The U.S. economy.

How vulnerable are we? So far, so good. But executives simply can’t cut IT security spending in order to make the next quarter’s bottom line stronger. The end result of short-sighted savings could be economic fallout that lasts for decades.