By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Plundering secrets for profits and hard targets. Experts say going from cyber espionage to cyber war is only a few clicks away.

Alex DeMetrick reports that risk is also generating opportunities in Maryland.

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Computer networks try hard to become electronic vaults, but every day their locks are picked by hackers.

The Chinese have become so adept, they have stolen the blueprints for American factories and used them to build identical plants to make identical products. More worrisome, infrastructure has also been probed from grids to bank statements.

“Next to a nuclear weapon, a cyber attack on the U.S. would be the most dangerous thing that could happen to us,” said Michael Greenberger, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.

But the dangers posed by cyber attacks also carry potential rewards.

“For creating jobs and creating opportunities by meeting the threats that come to our nation from criminal elements and also sponsored by other states,” Governor O’Malley said.

With so many agencies in or near Maryland, new businesses like KEYW have sprung up.

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“Our largest customer base is the U.S. intelligence community,” said Ed Jaehne, KEYW Chief Strategy Officer.

The Anne Arundel company briefed Governor O’Malley on the training it provides, because more than computers can crash.

“A cyber event can cause the same kind of damage a bomb does,” Jaehne said.

That can happen by ordering machines like generators to malfunction and self-destruct.

“We’ve got to be ready here in case something like that unleashes on our electric grid, on our water system, on our finances, on our health care,” he said.

It’s a target rich environment will take at least 30,000 new cyber warriors to defend.

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While a devastating attack has not happened yet, more than 140 U.S. companies have lost billions of dollars in trade secrets and research.