Thursday, March 28, 2013

Forget Reservoirs and Power Grids...

After 9/11 there was a surplus of crazy talk about the vulnerability (and need to protect) public infrastructure like water reservoirs (easily poisoned, the thinking was) and electrical power grids (remote high-tension lines are vulnerable).  Fortunately the level of this crazy talk has dropped significantly upon the realization of two things: (1) protecting all this infrastructure was completely impossible (it's too darned big and distributed), and (2) it really isn't as vulnerable as it seems (there's lots of redundancy built in).

This news story about divers trying to sever an Internet cable feeding Egypt got me to thinking about the vulnerability of the Internet to terrorists.  Those Internet cables, which I've written about before, are vulnerable to attack and (if severed) could have large economic impacts.  Furthermore, the routers that terminate those cables are potentially vulnerable to attack over the Internet itself (hacking, in other words). 

In most of the developed world there is sufficient redundancy in these cables that it would be very difficult for an attacker to cause serious economic harm.  For instance, New York City has dozens of Internet “feeds” connecting it to the rest of the Internet.  Taking out all those feeds at once would be exceedingly difficult.

In some other parts of the world (like Egypt), this is not true – there may only be a few (sometimes even just one!) Internet feed connecting an entire region to the Internet.  If a terrorist organization were to take out those feeds, that region would likely suffer considerable damage.  Very little international business today is conducted without the use of the Internet.  Even simple things, such as buying bulk loads of spices from Madagascar, often rely on the Internet for the marketing, sales, negotiation, funds transfer, and coordination of the purchase.  In those places, I would think the Internet cable would be a prime target for the bad guys...

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