Cyber Doomsday

Part  1

I watched TVO ( TV Ontario) The Agenda the other day.  It scared the heck out of me.

Steve Paiken was interviewing Ted Koppel.  The topic was Koppel’s new book  Lights Out, a hypothetical ( ?) modern-day  Armageddon.

A Shocking Possibility

In a nutshell, Koppel reveals that “a major cyber attack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating,and that the United States is shockingly unprepared.”   I have not read the book ( it’s on order) yet but was rapt by the interview.   

No Water, No Toilets…

During the succeeding days, I tried to rationalize how I would deal with the situation.  Well, if I was home, 41 stories up with basically 2 toilet flushes, no water, no heat, no fridge, no stove I would have to grab a flashlight walk down to P3 and get to my kids’ house.  ( Maybe drive if the garage door was locked open)  Hopefully, the tank would be full, but most likely at half).   I won’t continue with the story because I am sure you are doing your own version by now, don’t forget, no transportation, no communications, no hospitals, no money, no banking machines, and replacement transformers are all custom made.

Not Even Mutually Assured Destruction

“What about the nuclear mutually assured destruction scenario,” asked Paiken.  The response was logical.  The M.A.D. approach only works when country A directly threatens country B. In this case, it is clear who is doing what to whom and who would retaliate in kind.  With the black web and the various techniques to avoid detection, the country attacking the grid might take months to be discovered ( It took the FBI man-months to prove that North Korea actually hacked their systems, but it only took Sony and the rest of the world seconds to suspect it).

“What about immediately imposing regulations on the industry,”  asked Paiken? “In the US there are over 3000 independent power companies, some gigantic others minute,” responded Koppel.  “The big guys are doing what they can, the little guys, well we can only hope.” ( The small glitch in Aug 2003  which brought down the interconnected grid in Ontario and many states on the entire eastern seaboard resulted in some action but nowhere near the precautions which should have resulted).  If we want to benefit from an interconnected grid, the possible price is a tumbling domino effect should one participant fail, no matter the cause, a falling tree branch or a cyber attack.

A Wing and a Prayer

Paiken asked Koppel what precautions he had taken to prepare for a potential 2 or 3-month outage and the response was as you might expect, “ …freeze dried food, bottled water, flashlight, and batteries…” (and likely a shotgun,  although it wasn’t explicitly mentioned.)


Part 2

Well if having my gas and water cut off wasn’t enough along came an article in entitled,  Hackers Remotely Kill  A Jeep on the Highway-With Me In It.

Although the author of the article, Andy Greenberg had an agreement with the hackers,  Charlie Miller, and Chris Valasek,  he still reports it was pretty scary having lost control of his vehicle’s speed as he was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis. “ Cars lined up behind my bumper before passing me, honking. I could see an 18-wheeler approaching in my rearview mirror. I hoped its driver saw me, too, and could tell I was paralyzed on the highway… “To better simulate the experience of driving a vehicle while it’s being hijacked by an invisible, virtual force, Miller and Valasek refused to tell me ahead of time what kinds of attacks they planned to launch from Miller’s laptop in his house 10 miles west. Instead, they merely assured me that they wouldn’t do anything life-threatening.” Not a hypothetical anymore this is really getting serious.


Part 3

The last part of this sad trilogy is a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Europe Sets Up Digital ‘SWAT’ Team for Aviation Cyber Threats.


The gist of the article discussed how Europe’s top air safety official said he is hiring a group of high-level computer experts to identify and combat looming cyber threats to aviation.

Intended to be a kind of digital SWAT team for hacking attacks, the initiative launched last month goes beyond U.S. efforts and is the most dramatic example of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s increasingly aggressive approach to such risks.

“The aim is to quickly provide technical assistance to carriers or national regulators anywhere in Europe in the event of a cyber attack,” Patrick Ky, the agency’s executive director, said in an interview.



Let’s get a handle on this folks!

  • Raise the issue whenever you get a chance.  The more the conversation happens, the greater the likelihood some progress will be made.  Tell your friends, tell the folks at the water cooler, ask your car salesman what his company is doing about it.  Don’t be surprised at the blank stare.
  • Write to your legislators.  Perhaps they will get the message if enough people independently sound the alarm.
  • Think globally but act locally. Just as world hunger will take some time to resolve, here are few things you can do.
  1. Make sure all your data, both business and personal, is backed up and secure on devices to which you have access.
  2. Be sure your backup systems have off-grid power sources.
  3. At home keep hard copies of critical data including bank statements, wills, leases, contracts, etc.
  4. Be able to prove who you and your family are.  Picture ID, etc.
  5. If you are still not sure call Jolera, we can help.