In the latest cyber attack, computers in homes, businesses, and government offices across the country were effectively shut down by the so-called 'Here You Have' virus, which prodded recipients to download a message that would then infect the user's computer.
A cyber jihadi who may be Libyan posted a video on YouTube taking credit for the massive hack, saying he was protesting the US presence in Iraq and threats by American pastor Terry Jones to burn the Koran.
But as former White House national security official Richard Clarke explains on this week's episode of "Brian Ross Investigates," whoever was behind the attack, the intent seemed to be harvesting passwords from computers worldwide – and the US can do little to stop a repeat. The US needs to disconnect vital systems like the national power grid from the internet, says Clarke, or risk the consequences of a far more serious attack.
Clarke, an ABC news consultant and author of the new book "Cyber War," called the "Here You Have" virus a classic "zero day attack," meaning it used a new and never-seen-before technique to penetrate computer defenses. "That actually occurs very frequently," said Clarke. "Almost every day there is a new access technique. . . . So your anti-virus, your firewalls or intrusion detection systems don't see it coming."
Clarke said the 'Here You Have' hacker or hackers seemed to want to harvest passwords, which were then emailed to outside servers for several hours before those servers were found and shut down.
Hackers are capable of launching much more serious attacks, said Clarke, and the current internet architecture is not capable of stopping them. "Any one of our systems can be taken down," said Clarke. "Our railroads, our banks, our critical infrastructure can be taken down. Our power grid can be taken down. We need to start disconnecting systems like the power grid from the internet."
Also on Brian Ross Investigates this week, we update a story about a video found on a lost cell phone after it was turned into police. As ABC News reported last year, the video provided shocking evidence of what leaders in the mental health community called a throwback to the insane asylums of the 19th century.
The video showed confused residents at a state school for mentally disabled adults being forced to take part in a so-called fight club run by night shift workers. The broadcast of the tape on ABC News and elsewhere led to efforts by the Texas legislature to improve things at those state schools.
But now the Texas Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's decision and ruled that the damning evidence may not be used at the trial of the accused ringleader because police did not have the right to search the phone after it had been turned in. The criminal trial of Timothy Dixon is on hold after a state appeals court ruled the cell phone tape was gathered illegally by police. Dixon is free on bail while the prosecution appeals the ruling to the state's Criminal Court of Appeals.
Finally, 2010 has turned out to be the year of the super-rich in US politics. The Republican senate candidate in Connecticut, Linda McMahon, the GOP senate candidate in California, Carly Fiorina, and the Republican candidate for governor in California, Meg Whitman, have all spent millions of dollars from their own fortunes in pursuit of office.