For years, fear mongerers from industry and government have been warning about the growing threat of "cyberwar" and "cyberattacks" where hackers would totally take down important critical systems that rely on the internet. The reality, however, is that it's not so easy for hackers to do this. In fact it's been exceedingly rare that hack attacks cause huge problems, taking down critical systems on a massive basis (though, they can do plenty of localized damage). Instead, as the NY Times notes, it seems that all of the big computing disasters lately have much more to do with overly complex computing systems
, where some bug triggers a catastrophic failure. The article mentions things like the recent United Airlines computer problems
and the recent Skype downtime
, both of which were attributed to computer failures rather than malicious attacks (though, there's some debate over how true those explanations are). One of the most interesting points made in the article is that the complexity of many computing systems has reached such a level that pinpointing problems is a lot more like forecasting the weather than anything else. You have some general idea of where the problems might occur, but there's a lot of guesswork involved. Of course, it could be that this level of complexity is exactly why hacking attacks haven't been able to bring down most major systems. It's the same thing as the various (failed) attempts to control the weather
. There are just too many variables to deal with.