Bruce Perens – A Cyber-Attack on an American City


Bruce Perens – A Cyber-Attack on an American City

On April 9, the people around Morgan Hill, CA woke up to a cyber nightmare.  Their phone systems, ATM’s, Internet, and way of life were cut.  Even their hospitals were helpless.  Eight fiber cables were cut just after midnight.  This disrupted all services for a 100-mile radius around Morgan Hills.  Now to be clear, these cables were in four different locations.  And were cut in an organized attack.

The article is aimed mainly at people in charge of infrastructure (engineers, managers, disaster planning) but there are a few things that can be applied to home users as well.

How many of us have ditched our landline phones in favor of all cellular?  I have my hand up.  And I can tell you from a past experience that the cellular system is fragile.  We had a tornado move through my area, and about 30 minutes later the cell systems went completely offline.  But, I was still online through my DSL.

“Cash was king for the day” (from the article).  “and many found that they didn’t have sufficient cash on hand.”  What can be taken from this?  Keep enough emergency cash on hand to last you a couple of days to a week.  Now, I’m not talking about being able to buy a car each day.  But, I’m talking about enough to fill your tank once, and buy some food to get you through.

“The first lesson is what stayed up: stand-alone radio systems, and not much else”.  I can remember about 10 years ago, you’d see CB antennas and Ham Radio antennas everywhere.  Nowadays, you don’t see them much.  The hospital in Morgan Hill had a good working relationship with the local ham club, and they used them to direct ambulances and other needs.  Do YOU have a relationship with anyone that has a ham or CB radio?  Does your business have any type of “real two-way communication” or do you rely on the stupid “walkie-talkie” feature that Nextel and other cell phone providers give you?

How many people have replaced their landline phones with the VoIP phones like Vonage and Skype?  Do you realize that if the fibers were cut in your city, your old landline phone might still work to call your neighbor, but that wonderful Vonage phone won’t do anything at all?  It relies on an Internet connection to make even a local phone call.  If the Internet is disconnected, how can you call anyone?

So, what can be taken from this for home-users?

  1. Keep an emergency stash of cash on hand somewhere.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be enough to get the basic needs for a few days.
  2. Have backup methods for communication besides cellular and VoIP phones.
  3. Part of two includes acquiring an interest in CB or Ham Radios or at least knowing how to get a hold of someone that has access to this equipment.
  4. Have a strategy in place with your family for emergencies.  This needs to include ways of communication besides cellular and VoIP phones.  If you’re not able to get in touch, have a meeting place and time-frame set up.  A parent (preferably the one who can get access to the cash in #1) should be at the meeting place before everyone else.
  5. Be watchful.  If you notice something that looks suspicious, report it.  Even if it turns out to be harmless, you’re better safe than sorry.
  6. If you’re in charge of disaster planning for a company or community, take heart of the points in this article.

The Boy Scouts say “Be Prepared.”  Even if you’re not a multi-million dollar corporation or city, you can still take steps to ensure that you end up better off than someone who isn’t prepared for something like this.  As the article points out at the end, there WILL be another incident.  Next time, it could be a lot worse.  Will you be ready if it happens in your town?

Have a great day:)  I’m off to reinstall my old CB radio in my car, and get some cash hidden away.  At least after I wake up in a few hours 😉

Patrick.

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