By Patrick Lambert,TechRepublic

Patrick Lambert discusses whether he thinks World War III will be caused by a rogue hacker.

We all remember movies like WarGames, where some whiz kid wants to show off his computer skills, hacking into government computers, poking around until he finds the control for nuclear weapons. Then, tragedy is averted at the last second before World War III is triggered. That’s some good entertainment, but gone are the days when people thought this kind of event could actually happen.

The chance some random hacker on the Internet could trigger a nuclear blast is ridiculously tiny. For one thing, all the control systems for these mass destruction weapons are so old, they couldn’t even be plugged into the Internet, much less accessed remotely. Plus, the risks are well understood, and there’s a large amount of very smart people working on making sure such a scenario never leaves the world of Hollywood.

But another series of events has been happening lately with almost complete impunity, which if they continue, could become almost as devastating to society as a missile launch. As individuals, businesses, and governments become more and more interconnected, hackers have been scoring increasingly scary hits against their systems.

It used to be that hackers would target logins and passwords, perhaps credit card numbers, by using malware on computer systems, but in the past 12 months, the target has shifted. Earlier this year, hackers targeted RSA, a maker of security tokens for big corporations. This allowed the hackers to compromise government contractors that were said to be impregnable, because of the RSA security devices they used. Then last month, there was a report of hackers getting into Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, one of the top makers of submarines and weapon components like thePatriot Missile.SRC