As this latest S.E.C. "incident" makes clear, it can also endanger our entire way of life. If hackers ever managed to steal one of these laptops or gain unauthorized access to the data contained on the hard drives, they not only could have shut down America's largest stock exchanges, they also could have thwarted emergency efforts to bring those exchange systems back online, perhaps indefinitely. How many billions of dollars would that have cost in lost trading revenue, failed contracts, life savings, erosion of investor confidence and/or simple, utter chaos?
We dodged a bullet this time. And, while (as far as we know) these unencrypted laptops containing the blueprints of the American financial system were not stolen or hacked, our good fortune is only a matter of luck. Inevitably, it will run out someday. Maybe the bad guys will devise the ultimate super-sophisticated mega-hack that steals all our Social Security and bank account numbers with a single keystroke. Or maybe our misfortune will turn into a hacker's good fortune, and the laptop or mobile device they steal from or compromise at a convention hall contains the ultimate how-to manual for crushing the capitalist system as we know it.
Enough with bullet-dodging, my friends. We need to design and implement a comprehensive cyber-security policy now. If we fail, the next bullet could be a headshot.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.