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Christmas is slow for journalists. There are a few more end-of-year lists to run, most of which were written weeks ago, and some holiday shopping numbers to report. Which is why the Sydney Morning Herald's Conrad Walters must have been thrilled to see security software firm McAfee's latest study on the growing threat of cyberwar between nations. It's not every day a hack gets to paint a picture of gloom and doom this lurid.

First the mobile fails. Intermittent black spots are nothing new but you haven't had so much as an SMS from motormouth Michael in hours or anything from Jen who always calls with arrangements for Tuesday's movie by now. You resign yourself to catching up on email and the frustrations mount with each minute on an unresponsive computer. Has the whole world stopped?

The thrills don't stop there. Walters goes on to detail cyberattacks against Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Germany, India and Estonia in the last 12 months. None of them seem to have done much harm.

But they totally could have, Walters tells us. Potential targets include air traffic control systems, financial markets, government computer networks, telecommunications, electricity services "and beyond." So what's a newspaper-reading citizen to do about this imminent threat? Walters asks an expert. "As an absolute minimum," McAfee exec Michael Sentonas tells Walters, "home PCs should be protected by antivirus software, antispyware and a firewall." Take that, nation-states!

(Photo by Pitel)