Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lights Out--another unthought of danger

Inspired to read this book from Ted Koppel's appearance with Fareed Zakaria.  After finishing the book the acknowledgements provided some relevant commentary.  As a well known news correspondent and anchor for Nightline, Ted was well read and somehow stumbled on the idea that cyber attacks, particularly on the electric grid were one of the greatest dangers that we are the least prepared for.

Looking out his window one day he speculated on what he would do after a major cyber attack and realized that he would not be very good at hunting down nearby deer or wild turkeys and felt it was a hopeless situation.  Quoting Will Rogers, "we're all ignorant, just about different things" he decided with his skills and connections he would get the information and present it to the public.

Incidentally I recommend his acknowledgements as there are a lot of credit given to some people that made the book possible.  Many observations got my attention as supporting his main thesis, that we need to be better prepared for the future dangers brought on by the inter-net and our dependence on it.

Terrorism flourishes on disproportionate fear.  After 9/11 the air flight business suffered until after security measures were adopted and time had muted memory a little bit.  Now terrorists are picking softer targets and fear is spreading.  Ted Koppel has identified the electric power grid as a vulnerable target with very wide implications for the nation. We Canadians are obviously inter connected with the rest of North America.

The U.S. is the only country to have used a nuclear bomb in war and now tries to disarm the nuclear option. With Israel they are also the first to use cyber warfare this time against the Iranian nuclear program, now it seems they would like to cut cyber warfare;  Iran retaliated, but chose Aramco, a Saudi based oil company.  Obviously it is not necessary to be a super power to inflict devastating damage.  Korea took offense at a movie "The Interview" and used a cyber attack to stop its distribution.  They succeeded in publicizing some embarrassing gossip, but fortunately did not stop people from seeing the movie.  An earlier post:

In the United States, most electric power is privately owned. They are reluctant to share information and often have different priorities.  Almost daily we hear arguments about the conflict between security and privacy.  Ted feels if we understand the dangers we will realize we will have to give up some privacy to be safe.  The electric grid is very expensive and some of the critical elements would be difficult to replace plunging large parts of the country into a dog eat dog sort of world very quickly.

Ted was able to talk to many higher-ups in the government responsible for security.  The problem is there are so many vulnerabilities it is impossible to guard against all of them.  The subject of being prepared got his attention and he explored how Mormons prepare.  They had undergone a lot of difficulties before finding safety in Utah.   At the highest levels they have a plan to protect their members with a key part being communication.  They stockpile food and other taken for granted necessities and encourage their members to build their own stockpiles.  They also note skills so they can shift volunteers to where they are needed in an emergency.

A side issue was what would happen in a disaster when urbanites seek survival goods.  Ted discusses the gun culture and how many see having a gun and knowing how to use it as part of a survival plan.  When he first talked with Mormons he found that most were willing to share with non Mormon neighbours, even invaders.  Later he learned that Mormon leadership was acknowledging it might be a good idea  to have a gun, but so far not elaborating.

I was surprised to learn that Ted was raised during the London blitz and although he didn't understand it much at the time he was able to conclude that although difficult to prepare for it, there was some advantages in doing almost anything.  When the atomic and hydrogen bombs first hit public awareness there were a lot of ideas of civil defense until governments realized they were all impractical for an atomic war.  Eventually the idea of mutually assured destruction helped life go on without expensive civil defense projects.

Ted (and myself) worry that there is danger of  going down the wrong path.  He quotes H. L Mencken; "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong."   It seems politicians feel the use of fear is a great tool to get elected rather than identifying a problem and working out the best way to deal with it.  "Acknowledging ignorance is often the first step towards finding a solution."

Pearl Harbor was a big shock to the Americans, but they were quickly able to identify the enemy and start a counter attack.  A cyber attack can come from anywhere and is unlikely to be easily traced to the perpetrator.  Ted has identified a real danger and backed up his contention with some research.  He admits that there are so many possibilities of cyber warfare and our first experience could be very unexpected.  His underlying theme is we need to be better prepared.

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