Sunday, June 11, 2017

Back to the 50s - Unless We're Very, Very Lucky

Imagine you wake up Monday morning to find that, overnight, our society has fallen back to the 50s. You pick up your cell phone, no signal. The TV is out. If you're lucky you've still got electricity, for now, and will discover there's no internet. It's gone.

You might still head to the office but you'll probably just be sent home.  No computers coupled with rotating power outages. And, please, don't use the staff washroom down the hall. The water is out.

Lucky you, you've got a full tank of gas. That's some comfort as you pass lines of drivers queuing up at service stations where the pumps have stopped working. Best head to the grocery store to stock up on food and beverages but, by the time you get there, the place is swarming with a horde of desperate shoppers turned looters. All the ATM machines are also down and the bank can't access any records of what you own or what you owe. You'll just use your debit card. No, it doesn't work either. What about your credit card? Ditto. You don't have any credit.

It's a blessing the TV is out so you won't have to hear about the loss of life, especially the plane crashes.

This all sounds really far fetched and yet it could happen to us at any time. It's called "the cascade" or the Kessler Effect or the Kessler Syndrome.  Now, 40 years after NASA scientist, Donald Kessler, identified this devastating cascade as a matter of mathematical certainty, a question of when, not if, the world is beginning to take his warning seriously.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who knew this idea had a name?! I independently came to the same conclusion back in the late 1990s when it was beginning to be obvious that electrical utility equipment at substations were being hooked back up to SCADA via the internet. That meant errors or deliberate hacking could render the system useless. Wait for automated cars and full-fledged hacking.

The sheer popped-vein bursting of pompous unedjumacated US "Lawmakers" currently picking on the Russkies for hacking elections will be on full show then. Not that the US hasn't interfered in every darn country's elections since financing the right wing against socialists in Greece after WW2, and holding Marshall Plan aid over France and Italy as bribes, and having Konrad Dulles Adenauer leading West Germany down the US mandated way. Even Obomber couldn't help himself telling the Brits to vote for Remain. Overt, but still hacking.

BM

The Mound of Sound said...


Another concern rarely mentioned, BM, is the "under the radar" militarization of space. It's a threat mentioned in military circles but rarely reaches the public domain. Take down your adversary's military communications, tracking and targeting satellite networks and then take out his GPS system and you have the ideal conditions to trigger a much larger cascade. It's been estimated it could take several decades before enough debris cleared to enable new satellite networks from low to high-Earth orbit to be established. In contemplation of losing its sat nav systems the US Air Force has been developing a new ground based navigation system. Beyond that it's back to ring laser gyros. Yippee.

And your other point is dead on. Our dependence on satellite services is near total and, yes, essential systems on Earth could be wiped out whether by hacking or something like Kessler warned us of in 1978. Go figure, eh?

Anonymous said...

Like global warming the warning will be ignored..

As for being without cell phones, internet, fridges that order to replace out of date food, Phone activated garage doors,one line banking,on demand hate TV, religious tv,Fox News; to name a few.
Yes I could well do without them.
I could line up( queue up) at the bank,open the garage door myself an walk up the friggen road to talk to my neighbour.
We would at the very least slow down our death spiral and and have near full employment to boot!!

TB

AniO said...

I've had the feeling our dependence on technology was dangerous, but I don't see the connection to the 50s. Back then, electricity was reliable as were water and gas. Everything worked, even TV and not having computers worked fine. New tech has acclimatized us to things not working right. We no longer expect the latest and greatest to work properly. It won't end well.

The Mound of Sound said...

The reference to the 50s, AniO, refers to being suddenly wrenched out of the digital age. There's not much in the way of analog systems that remains today. We don't have all that stuff just sitting in some backroom or warehouse waiting for us to dust it off and plug it in. The institutional memory of that time has long been lost to us. Some we could resurrect or piece together but most would have to be re-invented and we would have to reconfigure our economy and our society almost overnight because time would not be on our side. Our dependency on all things digital is far too great and leaves us pretty much defenceless should that be overwhelmed.

The Mound of Sound said...


Coincidentally, moving from an Earth-orbit calamity to targeted terrorism,a report today in the Daily Beast about the discovery of a "nightmare cyber-weapon" along the lines of our earlier Stuxnet, a dreaded "logic bomb" called "CrashOverride."

"The only thing that’s certain, says security researcher Robert Lee, CEO of Dragos, is that the malware wasn’t built as a one-time weapon. It’s designed from the ground up to be easily reconfigured for a variety of targets and contains some payloads that weren’t even fired off in the Kiev attack.

'“It’s a nightmare,” Lee said. “The malware in its current state would be usable for every power plant in Europe. This is a framework designed to target other places.”

"CrashOverride marks a significant escalation in the electronic arms race, at a time of overt saber cyber-rattling from U.S. adversaries like Russia and North Korea, and increasingly loud warnings about the vulnerability of the power grid. Last January, the Department of Energy assessed that the U.S. now faces “imminent danger” of a cyberattack that would trigger a prolonged cascading outage that would “undermine U.S. lifeline networks, critical defense infrastructure, and much of the economy; it could also endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.”

"Lee says CrashOverride is built to cause regional outages and in its current form doesn’t have the capability to start a cascade on the order of the 2003 Northeast U.S. blackout, nor to be easily repurposed to target other industrial control systems like water-treatment plants or gas pipelines. But the amount of expertise and resources that went into creating the program augurs even more dangerous malware to come. “What makes this thing a holy-crap moment is the understanding of grid operations encoded within it,” he said.

"That’s because the code targets a crucial technology called SCADA, for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. A SCADA network is essentially a electronic nervous system that allows operators to remotely monitor and control all the pumps, motors, relays, and valves that undergird society’s infrastructure...

The code used in Kiev included swappable modules for four SCADA protocols prevalent in Europe. When the proper module is activated, it runs under the name of the legitimate Windows process controlling equipment at the remote substation. CrashOverride kills the original program and starts issuing its own commands over the SCADA link, cycling through a range of circuit-breaker addresses and systematically tripping each of them, then starting again at the top. Even if the control center is able to send its own commands to restore the circuit, CrashOverride will just hit the breaker again, running continuously in an infinite loop. “It’s like a popup on a website where you close it, and it just keeps opening again,” said Lee. “That’s what they’re doing to circuit breakers.”

Great,just great.