Yesterday we saw a series of high profile systems failures. United Airlines saw its systems go down, throwing their travel schedules into chaos. Soon thereafter, the Wall Street Journal’s website went down for a spell. And of course, the New York Stock Exchange had to close for some 4 hours due to technical problems. Nobody knew anything, but it didn’t stop some from jumping to conclusions.
Society’s simultaneous dependence on networks and software and lack of understanding of the realities of either creates a climate conducive to hyperbole. In the movie Die Hard 4, hackers put in motion a ‘fire sale’ in which ‘everything must go’ as they take down infrastructure targets one by one causing chaos with whatever they touch. I daresay the media was one step away from declaring we were under such an attack, and security stocks were up on the exchanges that were working.
And yet it was nothing. Well, not nothing, but merely a set of unconnected glitches and configuration snafus that happened on the same day. It’s hard to see any foe would gain from causing such a thing, at least in Die Hard 4 they were just after money in the end.
But we’re going to see more and more of this, so better get ready. Why? We’re not only more dependent on our connectivity and apps than ever, there is also just so much infrastructure now that at any given time something will be busted somewhere. Colt had a data center catch fire the other day in Milan, but just think about how many data centers there are in the world now. So many points of failure, and yet so much redundancy too.
The sheer size and diversity of the world’s communications and technology infrastructure today makes it harder and harder to turn against us for terror etc. Yes, there are those who would want to if they could, but you need so much talent and muscle to really make a dent that it’s just so much more feasible for a terrorist to spend it on cheap stuff like guns and bombs while using the internet to do what it does best – communicate. ISIS doesn’t want to kill the internet, it’s far too useful to them.
Look at the spate of fiber cuts lately out in California. Troubling, yes, but not actually much more disruptive than an extra errant backhoe striking every few months. Imagine if yesterday’s NYSE, UA, and WSJ glitches were a coordinated attack. All that effort wasted on a few hours of confusion and annoyance mostly by the media, people who get paid to talk about it anyway.
On a local basis though, security is a very, very big thing, and we really aren’t ready. Perhaps a little hysteria now and then will help drive things in the right direction.
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