The Washington Post has an in-depth report on the security of electronic data and vulnerabilities that allow for digital attacks:
The idea of a former cyberwarrior using his talents to hack a wildly popular consumer device might seem like a lark. But [Charlie Miller’s campaign against Apple], aimed at winning a little-known hacker contest last year, points to a paradox of our digital age. The same code that unleashed a communications revolution has also created profound vulnerabilities for societies that depend on code for national security and economic survival.
Miller’s iPhone offensive showed how anything connected to networks these days can be a target. […]
After weeks of searching, he found what he was looking for: a “zero day,” a vulnerability in the software that has never been made public and for which there is no known fix.
The door was open, and Miller was about to walk through. […]
The words “zero day” strike fear in military, intelligence and corporate leaders. The term is used by hackers and security specialists to describe a flaw discovered for the first time by a hacker that can be exploited to break into a system.
In recent years, there has been one stunning revelation after the next about how such unknown vulnerabilities were used to break into systems that were assumed to be secure.
One came in 2009, targeting Google, Northrop Grumman, Dow Chemical and hundreds of other firms. Hackers from China took advantage of a flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and used it to penetrate the targeted computer systems. Over several months, the hackers siphoned off oceans of data, including the source code that runs Google’s systems. […]
Now cyberspace is a vital reality that includes billions of people, computers and machines. Almost anything that relies on code and has a link to a network could be a part of cyberspace. That includes smartphones, such as the iPhone and devices running Android, home computers and, of course, the Internet. Growing numbers of other kinds of machines and “smart” devices are also linked in: security cameras, elevators and CT scan machines; global positioning systems and satellites; jet fighters and global banking networks; commuter trains and the computers that control power grids and water systems.
So much of the world’s activity takes place in cyberspace — including military communications and operations — that the Pentagon last year declared it a domain of war.
All of it is shot through with zero days.