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Bulls & Bears
This past week's Bulls & Bears: Gary B. Smith, Exemplar Capital managing partner; Pat Dorsey, Morningstar.com director of stock research; Tobin Smith, ChangeWave Research editor; Scott Bleier, HybridInvestors.com president; Mike Norman, BIZRADIO show host, and Tracy Byrnes, New York Post business writer.
Trading Pit: New Al Qaeda Plot To Destroy U.S. Stock Market and Economy
Reports that Al Qaeda has plans to launch a cyber attack on banking and financial Web sites in order to cripple America's stock market and economy. Is this a real worry for Wall Street?
MIKE: Wall Street worries about a lot of things, but I don't think Al Qaeda will be able to pull off a huge cyber attack. If they do try, it will trigger a new wave of huge investing in security and protection, just like we saw during Y2K. The market will be taking off because firms will take this threat seriously and will put up the investment in order to protect themselves. These firms will bend over backwards to protect consumers.
TOBIN: I want to wake up and look like Brad Pitt tomorrow, but that's not going to happen. After 9/11, our banking and financial systems have triple the protection than we once had. The new Microsoft Vista system is coming out. I'd be more worried about Al Qaeda putting viruses in it. In terms of our online banking and trading, it's not going to happen.
GARY B: Yes, a cyber attack could absolutely happen. If you had said before 9/11 that people were going to hijack three American airplanes and fly two of them into the World Trade Center, you would have said, "No way!" You would have thought we could have prevented that. This attack is not likely to happen, but Wall Street should be worried. Wall Street will start taking the same kind of action they took with Y2K to prevent this type of thing. It's true that Al Qaeda would want to get to our true infrastructure like this. It is fearsome and I think it is possible.
TRACY: The financial institutions are the most secure institutions in the world, especially since 9/11. There are hackers out there who have been trying to get in for years. Al Qaeda is just going to be one of them. The problem is that we are feeding into it. They put this note out there that they are thinking of launching an attack and now all of a sudden everyone is talking and panicking. We're on guard now. I can't imagine they will be able to get through.
SCOTT: I'd rather them try a cyber attack than a physical attack. These terrorists will not be able to get in. Wall Street has spent billions of dollars to secure everything. The banking systems are redundant. Most big companies back up and cash their online activities all day long in secure locations. Even if they did launch an attack, it wouldn't disrupt our economy or our stock market.
PAT: This is number 495 on Wall Street's list of worries. It is so ridiculously low. We've had virus attacks before, so the computer systems are protected against this type of thing. This is a threat we are prepared for.
Al Qaeda Cyber Threat: Bad for Christmas Shopping?
It's almost Christmas and perhaps that's why Al Qaeda timed this cyber threat to hit in the wallet. If consumers think their money is in the cross hairs, could that hurt sales this year?
TRACY: If you go to use your debit card and you see a zero balance or if you try to use your charge card and it is maxed out for some unknown reason, yes it will hurt sales. These terrorists don't have to do it to a lot of people. Once the news gets out that Al Qaeda did it, people will pull their money out and there goes the shopping season. It truly could make a difference.
SCOTT: No way! You cannot get people to stop shopping. This is a record Christmas for online shopping and a record Christmas for bricks and mortar shopping.
PAT: From the consumer's perspective, they'll ask themselves, "Do I brave the malls on Saturday or do I go online to get everything done?" Online shopping will be huge this year. I'm not worried about this threat at all.
TOBIN: I would be more scared of Al Qaeda organizing their people to look over the shoulders of shoppers to steal numbers. That's the type of thing that scares me about Al Qaeda. Many other groups with tremendous amounts of resources have not been able to destroy our online and financial systems, so I don't think Al Qaeda will be able to do it. This threat will not stop people from shopping.
MIKE: It has to be systemic and it's not going to be. Retailers, credit card companies, financial institutions, are all going to make sure that their customers feel safe in using the cards and accounts online.
GARY B: I am going to do my own shopping online. Lesser industries have been brought down by rumors if the threat seems to be real. All it takes is a couple of people getting in front of the press. Then, consumers will stop shopping online if they feel Al Qaeda is a threat.