This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Internet as Weapon of Mass Destruction

"[The electric grid] is extremely vulnerable to disruption by a cyber or other attack. Timely reconstruction of the grid following a carefully targeted attack ... would be impossible [and could] result in widespread outages for at least months to two years or more, depending on the nature of the attack."
Confidential memo to U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce *

"A destructive cyber-terrorist attack could virtually paralyze the nation. [It] could shut down the power grid across large parts of the country [resulting in] a cyber-Pearl Harbor".
Former Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, 2012 speech

"...Our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid."
2013 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama

"We are not a pre-emptive democracy. We are a reactive one. Rare are the occasions on which we act in anticipation of a potential problem."
Tom Ridge, Homeland Security
power gridFlicker

*This was the joint conclusion and warning issued by two American former secretaries of defence, two former directors of central intelligence and two former national security advisers; that the United States, hugely reliant on electronic communications transmission, energy lines, manufacturing, shipping, and all that a modern economy uses an electrical grid for, in its communications and production capacity, is hugely vulnerable to sneak cyber-attack.

In modern warfare, it is not only armies marching to belligerently meet one another across a line demarcating where one sovereign state leaves off and the other begins, in the aeons-old intractability of human nature to broaden national territorial imperatives, but other methods by which a population can be impacted, through mass social network propaganda, incitement for interior sympathizers to rise against the host government, and the capacity to neutralize another country's means of conducting commerce and the provision of fundamental services.

The world has already seen what pervasive hacking attempts by organized groups of cyber-terrorists can accomplish, and successful efforts at purloining trade-production and scientific blueprints, as well as surreptitiously planting worms to successfully alter and delay or defeat a nation's most secret computer-driven productions leading to nuclear weapons production act as examples.

We have a fairly good idea, on a more superficial level how a sudden loss of power affects tens of millions of people, their government, its agencies, the social welfare network, municipalities and the people living in them by the example of the 2003 North American power outage impacting on both Canada and the United States when it took up to two days to restore power in urban areas and a week in remote areas when ten million Ontarians and 45 million Americans struggled without electricity.

On that occasion it wasn't malware and the creepily malign interference manifested on a broad scale through the work of foreign hackers in service to an alien entity determined to wreak havoc. It was the result of a software bug in a control room alarm system in Ohio. And because there was no alarm, operators did not redistribute power once overloaded transmission lines came in contact with foliage triggering a malfunction in the control software. A local problem morphed into a massive blackout.

Russia and China, according to military intelligence, have succeeded in embedding cyber-capabilities within the American electrical systems with the capacity to take down parts of a grid. It is believed that Iran has similar capabilities, similar to those of North Korea, working as well toward a goal of accomplishing a North American power takedown.

A former chief scientist at the National Security Agency in the United States has expressed fears that groups like the Islamic State may shortly have at their disposal experts to assemble the equipment required, available on the open market, to present their own cyberwarfare threat. Former secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano thought chances of an aggressor knocking out a power grid to be "Very high -- 80 percent, 90 percent."

(On the other hand, this is the same superbly-informed intelligence individual tasked with protecting the United States from terrorist penetration from abroad who claimed that the 9/11 attackers all reached the United States to accomplish their mission, through the border with Canada.) Jeh Johnson, currently Homeland Security secretary is more discreet, keeping his opinion to himself on this matter.
"The US Government has set up numerous efforts to help protect the US from cyberattacks. With regard to the grid specifically, there is the Department of Energy’s Cybersecurity Risk Information Sharing Program (CRISP) and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) programs in which utilities voluntarily share information that allows patterns and methods of potential attackers to be identified and securely shared."
Scientific American: Michael McElfresh
Better keep those emergency supplies handy; food and water, prescribed medicines, cash, flashlights, extra batteries, battery-powered radio. And hope for the best-case scenario. Remember how effective American intelligence was on pre-warning of 9/ll.

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