Hacking has become a weapon of economic warfare that might threaten the value of many investments including stocks.

The potential of such warfare was demonstrated on 21 October when the United States suffered a massive distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. Unidentified hackers using the Mirai cyber weapon were able to inflict crippling service interruptions on major online destinations including; Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) Spotify, PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL), Reddit, Tumblr and Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX).

The attackers used a botnet composed of hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices to load overload the systems at DNS (Domain Name Service) provider Dyn, journalist and cyber security expert Brian Krebs reported. Krebs’ sources were unable to identify the hackers behind the attack, but they were able to identify the weapon used as Mirai.

The botnet was partially composed of security cameras and other devices manufactured by a Chinese company called XiongMai Technologies. At least one of Krebs’ sources made the assault sound like an act of warfare against the United States.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Allison Nixon, the director of research of Flashpoint, a security firm told Krebs.

Economic Warfare threatens Ecommerce and Potentially Stock Values

Despite the work of Krebs and other journalists, much about the 21 October assault remains a mystery.

The purpose of the attack is unclear was it a test or demonstration of capabilities. A strong possibility was that someone was trying to send a message to American political leaders; like President Obama and corporate bigwigs such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

What is even disturbing is that the target of the attack was unclear was it Dyn; a specific company such as Netflix, or the United States economy? A truly disturbing scenario is that somebody was trying to disrupt the US economy or demonstrate that they can.

Was it Russia?

This points to a foreign government such as that in Russia. On 14 October, NBC News reported that the Obama administration had ordered the CIA to start planning for a covert cyber action against Russia. The targets were to be President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin leaders.

Anonymous sources identified as “intelligence officials” told NBC that Obama wanted to retaliate for what he saw as Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election. That interference included the hacking of the National Committee of Obama’s Democratic Party; and the leak of thousands of emails containing embarrassing information about the president’s political allies to WikiLeaks.

If the CIA action took place, there is a strong possibility that the 21 October DDOS was in retaliation for it. The Russians may have been demonstrating their potential to disrupt the US economy.

The attack was short-lived but it should send a frightening message to investors; internet based businesses are highly vulnerable to economic warfare. Largescale disruption of ecommerce, fintech and finance by cyberwarfare is a strong possibility.

Such an attack on a major shopping day such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday; the start of the Christmas shopping season in the United States, might cause serious damage to the economy. A related possibility would be an attack on the systems of shipping companies such as UPS (NYSE: UPS); making it impossible to track or deliver packages, on Christmas week.

The Danger to the Banking System

An even greater danger would be an attack designed to shut down major banks or disrupt the banking system. Many Americans rely on the internet for all or most their banking services. Around 17% of JPMorgan Chase’s (NYSE: JPM) customers use its mobile app Chase Pay, CFO Marianne Lake said. Major US banks including Chase, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE: C) are closing hundreds of brick and mortar branches.

This means a successful cyberattack on the banking system might leave large numbers of Americans with no access to money. Families might be unable to buy food and stores would not function. Would the government have to distribute cash to panicked citizens in such a situation?

Beyond that there are the average people who depend on the net for their livelihood, the small merchants who get paid by PayPal, the freelancers, the Uber drivers, the Airbnb hosts and all the people who sell on Amazon and eBay. Many of them have limited cash flow, so they would be devastated by a few days or weeks of net outage.

A nightmare investors need to consider is a cyberattack designed to drive down the stock value of a particular company. For example DDOS assault designed to shut down Netflix on the day it debuts a popular movie.

Worst of all there might be little investors can do because the entire economy is totally dependent upon the internet. Buying gold might make a person feel secure, but most supermarkets do not accept precious metals for payment.

It is Time to Ban Cyberwarfare?

Perhaps it is time for the world’s leaders to ban cyberwarfare and crack down on hacking. The potential damage it can do far outweighs any military value. Maybe we need a Treaty banning Cyberwarfare like the ones against chemical weapons.

It might also be time to set up some sort of global cybersecurity organization similar to the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat cyber weapons. This organization would fight cyberwarfare like WHO fights disease.

The economic havoc these tools of mass destruction can wreak to investors and everybody else is vast. Perhaps it is time to put an end to cyber weapons, and treat those who use them like what they are: terrorists.

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