(CBS) Nothing has ever changed the world as quickly as the Internet has. Less than a decade ago, "60 Minutes" went to the Pentagon to do a story on something called information warfare, or cyber war as some people called it. It involved using computers and the Internet as weapons.
Much of it was still theory, but we were told that before too long it might be possible for a hacker with a computer to disable critical infrastructure in a major city and disrupt essential services, to steal millions of dollars from banks all over the world, infiltrate defense systems, extort millions from public companies, and even sabotage our weapons systems.
Today it's not only possible, all of that has actually happened, plus a lot more we don't even know about.
It's why President Obama has made cyber war defense a top national priority and why some people are already saying that the next big war is less likely to begin with a bang than a blackout.
"Can you imagine your life without electric power?" Retired Admiral Mike McConnell asked correspondent Steve Kroft.
Until February of this year, McConnell was the nation's top spy. As chief of national intelligence, he oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Few people know as much about cyber warfare, and our dependency on the power grid, and the computer networks that deliver our oil and gas, pump and purify our water, keep track of our money, and operate our transportation systems.
"If I were an attacker and I wanted to do strategic damage to the United States, I would either take the cold of winter or the heat of summer, I probably would sack electric power on the U.S. East Cost, maybe the West Coast, and attempt to cause a cascading effect. All of those things are in the art of the possible from a sophisticated attacker," McConnell explained.
"Do you believe our adversaries have the capability of bringing down a power grid?" Kroft asked.
"I do," McConnell replied.
Asked if the U.S. is prepared for such an attack, McConnell told Kroft, "No. The United States is not prepared for such an attack."
"It is now clear this cyber threat is one [of] the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation," President Obama said during a speech.