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Cyber Attacks

american-blackoutAmerican Blackout, a two-hour made-for-TV movie, aired on National Geographic Channel this past Sunday night. It was a dramatization of what could happen in the ten days following a nationwide electrical grid failure caused by a cyber attack. This is a very real threat. Just Google “power grid cyber attack” and look at all the hits you get. Things like this report from Bloomberg.com: Power Grid Cyber Attack Seen Leaving Millions in the Dark for Months

I found the movie to be reasonably realistic. I think it downplayed violence, but it certainly didn’t eliminate it altogether. It followed a number of people through the circumstances the blackout left them in, including a prepper family, some urban apartment dwellers, and a group of college students. Seeing how each of them dealt with the emergency provided a good learning experience. Here are some of my lessons learned from American Blackout:

  • Emergencies can happen suddenly. We’ve been seeing an economic catastrophe heading our way for years and have been given lots of time to at least begin to prepare for it. With other disasters, like hurricanes, you only have a couple of days advanced warning. Certainly enough time to bug out if you choose to do so and get to a place of safety. But there are some calamites, such as blackouts and earthquakes or getting laid off from your job, that can hit you with no notice. You can’t always count on having the luxury of forewarning. You can’t start prepping when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Whatever you have prepped when one of these sudden emergencies hits is all that you’re going to have. This movie drove that point home for me. I’m doing OK in some  prepping categories, but hugely deficient in other key areas. I need to apply myself to filling in some of those gaps, because something might happen with no warning.
  • You don’t want to be in a city when it happens. City dwellers must get very tired of hearing this from their county cousins, but it’s true. It boils down to supply and demand. During a crisis in a city, the scale is going to be tipped way over on the demand side, far beyond the ability to supply. The needs will be overwhelming. Which leads to the next lesson learned…
  • Things can get very bad in a very short time. People become desperate quickly. I work as a clerk in a rural hospital. I have to ask people a lot of very personal questions and I have to try to collect any co-payments that are owed at the time of service. I’ve never gotten used to the number of people who are unemployed, or even the number of working people who can’t pay their co-payment tonight because they don’t get paid until Friday. For years I’ve heard that a lot of people are one paycheck away from poverty or homelessness. I see evidence of it all the time at my job. Right now there’s a huge safety net in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare. All of that comes from our bankrupt government by means of tax paying workers. What happens if it all dries up suddenly? Take a look at these recent news articles:
    Food Bank CEO warns of riots over major food stamp cuts
    Walmart customers riot when unable to use EBT cards

Like I said, things can get very bad, very quickly. Be prepared.

  • The likelihood of collateral accidents rises sharply, with much greater impact. American Blackout showed a lot of traffic accidents due to all the traffic signals being out of service as a result of the power outage. Losing your means of transportation during an emergency takes a lot of options off the table for you and puts you in a position of being more dependent on others at a very bad time. The movie illustrated the heightened danger of house fires because people were lighting their homes with candles. Having your house catch on fire can wipe out all of your preps and make your homeless and penniless in an instant. The movie showed one guy who only had an electric can opener, now completely useless with the power being out. He was trying to puncture the top of a can of food with a butcher knife and (predictably) cut a gash in his hand. It’s bad enough to get in a car wreck or have a house fire when you can count on your insurance company to jump in and make you whole again, but if you take them out of the equation, you’re screwed. Having a significant personal injury can be terrible even when you can get quick medical assistance, but if every hospital is overwhelmed with major trauma cases, you’re on your own. Accidents happen during the best of times. If they happen during the worst of times, even a relatively minor event might have disproportionate consequences. How are you equipped to deal with such things?
  • 911 won’t respond to your call for help. In a full-blown emergency, your house fire or medical emergency or home invasion won’t get the kind of attention from the authorities that you normally would. They will already be deluged with addressing public safety issues. It won’t take the bad guys long to figure out that the cops can’t roll for every victim who needs help. You’re going to have to fend for yourself in every way. How well are you prepared to deal with your own medical, fire, and security vulnerabilities?

Did I “enjoy” American Blackout? No. There was nothing enjoyable about it. But I hope I learned something from it.

If you missed it this past Sunday, you still have a couple more opportunities to watch or record it. National Geographic Channel is going to rebroadcast American Blackout this coming Sunday, Nov.3 at 10am, and again on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 3pm. Take notes. There may be a quiz when you least expect it.

It’s being widely reported today that major banks and broadcasting media companies were simultaneously hit by a cyber attack that crashed their computer networks. Some systems were down for as long as six hours. Here’s a link to a story from the Washington Post:

Computer networks crash at South Korean banks, media companies; North Korea attack suspected

The number of cyber attacks worldwide has spiked in recent times. We’ve all become heavily dependent on digital media. (You’re using it right now. So am I.) The bad guys know that the best way to cripple an opponent is to take out their computer systems.

And it’s not just the bad guys. Our side is doing it, too. It’s been speculated that the only reason that Iran doesn’t already have nuclear capability is because we (or Israel, or both of us working together) cyber attacked Iran a couple of years ago and caused a major set-back in their development program.

A successful cyber attack on American banking or defense or communications systems could make a real mess of things in a hurry.