LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Housing super computers to protect the United States economy in caves under Louisville? The federal government spent millions of dollars on that very idea in a place many visit everyday.
From your ATM card to your bank and retirement accounts computers control it all, but what if someone pulled the plug on everything?
"If people can't go get money just to go buy milk. And businesses can't operate with other companies around the world, I mean there's no telling what kind of damage you could create," said Adrian Lauf, assistant professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Louisville Speed School.
Experts at the Speed School say a large scale cyber attack on the nation's banks and stock markets could short circuit the U.S. financial system and bring the economy to a grinding halt. The chances of that happening are remote, but real.
The impact of a successful super hack on our financial system would be catastrophic.
"You'd have a significant number of people who could conceivably lose everything," said Speed School instructor Michael Losavio.
Now, documents reveal the federal government hoped to create a safety net in Louisville. Tucked away inside a place known not for national defense but underground adventure. The caverns under the city.
From 2005 to 2009 the Department of the Treasury spent more than $3,734,150 funding a joint project at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville to study whether the temperature and climate controlled cave could house a huge, state of the art data storage computer.
The studies were done in a place called e-Cavern that still exists today.
"Security is a combination of the physical and the cyber," said Dr. Adel Elmaghraby, the Chair of UofL's Innovative and Emerging Technologies Lab.
Elmaghraby worked on the project and said e-Cavern would house backup copies of the financial industry's essential records in case their primary computers were destroyed.
That's not a new concept, but placing the system in a cave underground provided added security, especially in light of what happened on 9/11.
"It could be done," Elmaghraby said. "Definitely."
Is anybody doing it? Not in e-Cavern. Funding ran dry before researchers completed the project.
Elmaghraby said the team published papers on their findings and made presentations to military, banks and the Department of the Treasury. But the Treasury wouldn't say if the technology was being utilized anywhere else.
At a cyber security roundtable held by the Security and Exchange Commission in March, a Treasury official seemed to indicate the government still hasn't figured out a fool proof system to recovering financial data lost in a cyber attack.
"This recovery concept feels less explored," said Katheryn Rosen, Deputy Asst. Secretary of the office of Financial Institutions Policy for the U.S. Department of the Treasury
"This is a really, really important piece," Rosen said.
A 2012 survey of securities exchanges found 53 percent reported experiencing a cyber attack in the previous year.