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Cyber Attacks Capable of Crashing the U.S. Economy?

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Recent reports of the computers used to pilot General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' Predator drones being infected with a computer virus -- one that so far has proven impossible to remove -- are a perfect example of why cyber security is becoming an increasingly hot topic in defense.

General Atomics is the prime contractor for the Predator, but subcontractors include Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) for the synthetic aperture radar; Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) for the intelligence workstation and mission planning systems; and L3 Communications (NYSE: LLL  ) for the wideband satellite communications link, making this and other viruses a potential widespread problem among defense heavyweights.

Not just a defense problem
So far there haven't been any confirmed incidents of classified information being sent out as a result of the Predator virus, but experts are reportedly struggling to remove the virus from the Predator computers. According to Richard Clarke, a top advisor to three presidents, the United States' computer networks are so vulnerable to attack that going to war against computer-savvy countries like China, North Korea, Iran, or Russia could result in a cyber attack that would crash the U.S. economic system.

With the U.S. economy just barely limping along as it is, a cyber attack that could bring the economic system to a screeching halt is no laughing matter. So what can be done?

Cyber defenders to the rescue!
The threat to cyber security is a real problem, but luckily, there are also real solutions. Companies like CACI International (NYSE: CACI  ) , SAIC (NYSE: SAI  ) , and ManTech International (Nasdaq: MANT  ) all provide technical security programs in the United States and internationally. And as cyber attacks become an ever-increasing threat, these companies are reaping the benefits of being in demand, or coming up with new ways to provide cyber security. ManTech was recently awarded a $400 million task order to provide full-spectrum system-integration services to the DOD in support of its analytic modernization efforts; CACI International was recently awarded $635 million in Army contracts for C4ISR, Mobility, and Cyber Contracts ; and SAIC recently partnered with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) subsidiary McAfee to offer "Enterprise Ready Protection from Zero Day and Reconnaissance Attacks."

High-demand companies of the future
As technology and computers become more and more critical in defense, and in general, the risk of a cyber attack also increases. Fortunately, there are companies out there that are actively combating this problem, and as such, are set to benefit from increasing demand. This could help drive these companies' long-term growth, making them stocks you should think about taking a look at right now.

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Fool contributor Katie Spence has a love/hate relationship with her computer. She owns stock of Northrop Grumman. She does not own stock of any other company mentioned above. Keep up with her by following her on Twitter @TMFKSpence. The Motley Fool owns shares of ManTech International, Northrop Grumman, Intel, and L-3 Communications Holdings. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of L-3 Communications Holdings and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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