Massive Cyberattacks Like Hacking The Weather?

from the which-is-a-bigger-worry? dept

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.

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Comments on “Massive Cyberattacks Like Hacking The Weather?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Complexity usually entails a great deal of interdependent subsystems. That’s why, in general, the more complex a system is, the easier it is to take down.

One example is big cities. They are easy to “cripple” by breaking a seemingly insignificant part – like garbage collection, or traffic lights, elevators, etc.

One exception is the internet, which was designed specifically to work around damaged parts of itself.

Besides, the problem of cyberattacks isn’t that someone would take down the internet, it is that they could get information, plant misinformation, and break small parts of large systems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: AC

Yes, I think the real fear is that enough small things taken down could cripple us. Still, I think “cripple” is relative. People can knuckle down and do things the old fashioned way still. It’d hurt, but whoever inflicted that act of war on us would be punished severely and we wouldnt be too preoccupied with our survival to cheer it on.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

Re: RE Security Observer

Good article SO, I had seen that before.

Here is a question. How do we know that Intel or AMD (or both) have not already put in place a way for any Internet connected computer to allow access (a backdoor) built into them? How do we know that Google doesn’t do funky things from their toolbar? Skype from deep within its code providing the ability for access?

Security Observer says:

Re: Re: RE Security Observer

Yep. Who watches the watchers? A classic question. Having spent many years in the security industry and having deep involvement in the development side I can say that most corporations don’t have (official)time for non-revenue generating tasks and they distrust requests from the government agencies, but that doesn’t preclude a skunk-works project or an agency mole in the development group.

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