International Forecaster Weekly

Fear Porn

Every single day you hear about how we’re becoming more and more “connected”. The new slogan is the “internet of everything”. ... but the “right” people wanted to cause havoc, they could. But that’s just the physical stuff. Cutting cables and such. That’s not nearly as scary as “hackers”.

Bob Rinear | August 1, 2015

On Wednesday I suggested that indeed there are things that “bother me” in the big picture. The biggest scare for someone like me is that we have morphed into a society where our entire lives rely on this thing called the Internet and the “grid”. ( the grid being the electrical distribution system).

    I really cannot express how much this bothers me. I remember when I got my first digital camera and I was loading pictures onto my stone age computer. It was great! I could look at them, send them for free to family and friends. It was amazing. Then one day my hard drive crashed. All those memories were gone. People put on their high horse and said “Bob, didn’t you have a tape back up?!”  I didn’t even know what it was at the time, all I knew was that my photo’s were gone.

    So now it’s all about backing up data in “the cloud”. Well that’s just fine and dandy folks. Now what happens when that cloud goes down? Again most people snicker as if having data centers that can’t go dark is impossible. Well I’m here to tell you they most certainly can.  Now, let’s pull it a little closer to home. If EITHER the Internet as a whole was to go down, or our Power Grid (which would be both actually) all life as we know it stops on that day.  No ATM’s, no credit card transactions, no banking, no food stores, no mass transit, no gas stations, no nothing.

    That’s bad.
    So the question is, is it possible?  Is there anything that can wipe out the Internet, or the Grid?  Let’s start with the Internet first. The answer that comes to mind is yes. Despite its redundancy, and its decentralized manner of operation, there are choke points to consider. For instance you might think that the whole world is working on wireless, but that’s only true from you and your device, to the tower. From that tower out to the nodes, the signal is carried on fiber. Cut the fiber and large portions go dark.

    Call it terror, call it what you want, but in California, they’ve had 11 instances where fiber optic cables have been cut in various areas. That caused localized blackouts of TV, Internet, and phone. Here’s a small snippet from an article…

    SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) -- The Federal Bureau of Investigations is investigating an attack on fiber optics lines that has caused widespread disruptions in Internet service in California's Bay area and as far north as Seattle.

    The string of attacks span a year, including one early Tuesday. FBI agents will not disclose specifics about the Tuesday attack, but said someone broke into an underground vault and cut three fiber-optics lines for Zayo Group Holdings and Level 3 Communications, Internet wholesalers. Microsoft also reported a slowdown in its Azure cloud computing service in the western U.S. The FBI said there has been at least 11 occurrences of damage to fiber optics cables in the Bay Area and beyond, dating back to July 6, 2014.

    Now think about this. That’s probably just a small band of nasty people with a grudge or some form of an agenda. What if it wasn’t just a small band? What if it was a large group of “terrorists” so to speak.. What if they attacked simultaneously in NY, Chicago, Dallas, San Fran, Miami, and Washington?   

    Or here’s one for you. Most don’t realize this, but 90% of all internet traffic is transferred by huge fiber optic cables laid underwater across the globe. As much as three-fourths of the international communications between the Middle East and Europe have been carried by two undersea cables: SeaMeWe-4 and FLAG Telecom's FLAG Europe-Asia cable. On January 30, 2008, both of these cables were cut, severely disrupting Internet and telephone traffic from India to Egypt.

    A few days later, on February 1, 2008, an undersea FLAG Falcon cable in the Persian Gulf was cut 55 miles off the coast of Dubai. On February 3rd, a cable between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar was cut. On February 4th, the Khaleej Times reported that not only these cables, but also two more, a Persian Gulf cable near Iran, and a SeaMeWe4 cable off the coast of Malaysia.

    So as you can see, if the “right” people wanted to cause havoc, they could. But that’s just the physical stuff. Cutting cables and such. That’s not nearly as scary as “hackers”. Now follow me for a minute, I’m not getting whacky here. At the University of Minnesota, they discovered a way where a clever group could send out “bots” to the world’s routers, effectively taking down the net. In other words, the way things sort of work is that as signal is coming to its target end point, if something is “down” along the way, the signal gets routed around the disruption and the packets continue on their travel. This guy Schuchard and his team; developed  a way to basically “reroute” all those directional pointers to “nowhere”. Once discovered, it would take weeks for all areas to get back online.

    We’ve all heard of Denial of Service attacks, where hackers send so many requests or what have you to a web site, that the site shuts down. Well, that’s kid stuff folks. Governments around the world have learned that they like to be in control of their Internet, and they’ve often literally “shut it down” when they wanted to.   Iran has shut their entire net down in the past. So has Egypt. China controls what you can see and do. Do you really believe that our Gov’t doesn’t have a “kill switch?”  

    But I think the big scare is “hacking via virus”.  Just a week or so ago the NYSE was down as was an entire airline and such notables as the Wall St. Journal. No one wanted to say it was a hack attack, but please. It was. Now let’s toss high level Government viruses into the mix. This is going to get really scary.

    Ever heard of Stuxnet?  This piece is from CNN… Consider the Stuxnet worm that raised its head in 2010. This worm zigzagged its way into Iranian industrial systems, reprogrammed them, hid its tracks and wrecked the factory operations. Seemingly coming from nowhere, Stuxnet introduced itself as a destructive, unstoppable herald of what's to come. It will surprise no one that cyberwarfare of the future will involve targeting not only military and industrial targets but Internet connectivity for the general population. If you want to take down your enemy, start by shredding his Net.

    Now consider this for a moment. In October 2012, U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta warned that the United States was vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could derail trains, poison water supplies, and cripple power grids. The next month, Chevron confirmed the speculation by becoming the first U.S. Corporation to admit that Stuxnet had spread across its machines.

    So we’ve got proof positive of a “worm” type virus that can get in, disguise itself, leave no traces, and take over the controls of a plant creating uranium. In fact so good was this thing, the operators of the centrifuges couldn’t understand what was going on, because their gauges and displays all read as normal, even though the thing was blowing itself up. ( think Fukashima for a moment…just saying)   Are you going to tell me that even bigger, better state sponsored “viri’ haven’t been invented in the last 5 years? Count on it.

    So what happens if some rogue nation unleashes something similar to a stuxnet, and it’s first target is banking, then on to credit card terminals, and then to clearing houses for stock/bond trades, and finally to the Internet routers themselves?  This isn’t science fiction folks, there’s bad guys out there working on this very sort of thing.

    Every single day you hear about how we’re becoming more and more “connected”. The new slogan is the “internet of everything”. Your cars are going to start driving themselves. Your appliances will get factory software updates. Your smart meter on your electric box can control the flow of electricity. Traffic lights will sense pattern flows and change light timing. You are constantly pushed to “eliminate stamps, do your banking online”.  We do everything from make a dinner reservation, to ordering the very medicine you need to survive, online. Our lives are wrapped around this monster and there’s NO going back.

    That’s what bothers me folks. If it is inevitable that this “net” thing is going to continue to grow and find its way into every portal of our lives, the fact that it is NOT as secure as we think, bothers the hell out of me. I go back to last Sunday when our area’s net went down. Here at the house we’re on the Comcast “triple play” meaning TV, net and phone all goes online. For several days, we had no Internet and thus no home phone. Just one stupid thunderstorm, screwed us up for days. Imagine the nightmare of a well coordinated attack by a foreign Government’s professional hackers?  The right people could not only shut down Comcast, they could shut down Verizon too. Then you have no internet and no phone. Now what do you do?

    This is exactly why I did the piece last week about short wave radio’s and “ham” radio. I don’t like the idea that in a bad situation I’d have no way to communicate with folks. As you have probably noticed, I only talked about the Internet in this article. I didn’t mention  the “electrical grid” so to speak, because I wanted to separate them out. If we were to lose Internet on a wide scale, you can see the damage it would do. Now I’ve shown you that indeed the “net” is indeed vulnerable and that should at least get you thinking about “work arounds” if it were to go dark for a while. Hey maybe it will never happen. Maybe everything is so great that any and all attacks on it will be prevented. Maybe foreign nations and terrorists won’t “go there”. Yeah. And maybe pigs will fly out of my butt.

    On Wednesday, I’ll bring up part two of this chat - the Grid- and how fragile it actually is. If we lose the grid, it’s 10 times worse than just losing Internet. 100 times or more actually.  Then next Sunday we’ll chat about ways to “work around” these sort of things.