The unprecedented access given 60 Minutes correspondent John Miller by the National Security Agency aired Sunday night on CBS.
It a riveting look at a beleaguered agency hobbled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s massive and ongoing leak of its most secretive programs.
But one interview sequence, in which Miller interviewed Debora Plunkett, who oversees cyber defense for the NSA, was particularly compelling.
Plunkett spoke about the “BIOS Plot” uncovered by an NSA analyst before any harm could be done. The attack could have “literally” taken down the U.S. economy,” she told Miller.
While the NSA has not named the country behind this attempted cyber attack, “cyber security experts briefed on the operation told us it was China,” Miller said.
NSA’s Plunkett: “One of our analysts actually saw that the nation state had the intention to develop and to deliver, to actually use this capability– to destroy computers.”
The plot involved invading critical U.S. computer systems through the BIOS (basic input output system), which initializes every time a computer is started up. The main function of the BIOS is to initialize and test a system’s hardware components, and to load a bootloader or an operating system.
Here’s the exchange that followed:
Miller: And after that, there wouldn’t be much you could do with that computer.
Plunkett: That’s right. Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy.
Miller: I don’t mean to be flip about this. But it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality — to it that, “I’m going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world.” It sounds almost unbelievable.
Plunkett: Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.
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