Post#: 226-18 – Words: 2122 – Audio: N/A
In my lifetime it seems that the 1970’s were pretty much the last era where we were not as apocalyptically vulnerable as we are today. Pretty much all we had to worry about was a nuke attack… and that mutually assured destruction concept. What computers that were available were huge monoliths connected to pretty much nothing other than inside corporate borders and military think tanks.
A lot of folks have been critical of the Cold War in that both the U.S. and the Soviets had this need to build up their nuke arsenals. Over time the reasons and meanings don’t seem that significant but here are a couple considerations before you dismiss the reasons for the Cold War entirely. First off… we have to look at the end of WW2. Communism under Stalin was a pretty big deal and even during the war with Germany our field commanders in Europe were concerned about our war alliance with the Soviets. The Soviets even penetrated the Manhattan Project; the development project of the bombs for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They knew about “the bomb” and had an idea how to make one. After the war the Soviets grabbed rocket technology from the retreating Germans, just as we did. So given Stalin’s desire for some sort of retribution for the war and his propensity for using power for conquest, the fear of a communist-dominated world became the fear of the day. Our government immediately saw a need to keep ahead of Soviet military technology to counter the Soviet threat. Thus started the arms race.
The good part of all that, and the bombing of those two Japanese cities during the war (if killing people is somehow “good” in some way), is that it showed what would happen after such a nuclear war. For nearly 20+ years after those bombs were dropped the human suffering from radiation fallout became a deterrent in itself. The Cold War became a deterrent to using nukes and it worked. A secondary good part of the Cold War is that it was directly the reason for our space program.. and pretty much every piece of electronics technology in our lives ever since. The Cold War was also in part responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s… their military buildup to stay in parity with us broke their economy, although it took nearly 50 years to do it. But the Cold War was always in the background of our daily lives; Russians were “bad”, their spies everywhere, walking amongst us, yada yada. The Communist Manifesto-feared “domino theory” leading to the Korean War, Vietnam, etc. The threat was real in some cases, yet perceived incorrectly in other cases.
Enough brief Cold War nuke history. The point is that up until that point in time.. the Cold War.. did humans even have the capacity for self-annihilation. Interestingly.. the risk from maverick asteroids, some bizarre disease, quakes, tsunamis, polar shifts, the weather running wild, or solar flares, is still the same risk but no one thought about it back then (although our continued tinkering with science and medicine might have advanced the disease risk, not to mention global warming).
Ok.. for the last 40+ years our technology has been totally attached to electronic technology.. and on top of that, the electronics is all connected together and intertwined completely in our lives. Also, it’s not just here on Earth; space extends our need for electronic connection. Our vulnerability now extends way beyond the risk of a world-wide nuclear war. In fact, given some apocalyptic scenarios, sudden obliteration from an atomic blast might be a God-send to surviving in a semi-apocalyptic world (if there even is such a thing as semi-apocalyptic) from any of the other scenarios.
So, Let’s Run Down The List Of Electronic Vulnerabilities –
The current “invasion” by the Russians into our election process through their concerted efforts in cyber hacking is a perfect example. Meddling the voting process is bad enough. But what happens if some state-sponsored government decides to play with our electric grid… water distribution.. natural gas distribution… in fact, what happens if any part of the Internet is hacked to the point of affecting a single country?
Let’s go a step further. It may not necessarily require some state-sponsored cyber aggression to leverage a political agenda. Remember that 400 pound guy in bed with his laptop suggested by Trump as being responsible for the meddling in our election process to try and remove our suspicions of that being the Russians? Well.. it’s not inconceivable one bit that some cyber terrorist in some basement somewhere couldn’t tinker with the actual performance of the Internet and bring it down… or bring it down by country.
So.. You Might Be Thinking.. Go Ahead And Bring Down The Internet For A Few Days, No Big Deal, Right?
Alright.. let’s detail exactly what the Internet is doing these days. Making sure your Tweets, Facebook, Youtube nonsense gets sent out.. and all your emails get answered is not even a percentage of how much the Net affects our lives.
The entire distribution network in the country goes down; everything is affected. Each and every 18 wheeler on the highway, every railroad car, every mail carrier’s right-hand steering wheel truck, all food transport and distribution to Walmart, your local grocery store, gas stations… it all stops… not in a couple days (and not mechanically), but right now.. all distribution stops. In fact, drivers won’t get paid.. so why even try and go to work.. that compounds the problem.
All utilities come to a grinding halt, or nearly, depending on your region within the grids. Electric, natural gas, water. All these services require Internet network services to operate. Food in your fridge and in stores will spoil and rot.
The entire banking system will collapse. Money does not flow. Stock market trading stops dead. How soon? Depends on peoples’ fears and developing trepidation. As the realization that money is not the currency anymore.. and likely a bottle of water acquires more value than a bar of gold… that will make folks sober up quickly to their plight.
Now here’s the next question.. how long can you live without all this before you head into the streets foraging for food? Theory is about three days… certainly within a week.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument the Internet is being held in some sort of hostage.. the fat guy on his bed shuts it down for a day or two, then flips it back on after his demands are met. Consider this… How long can the Net be down before bringing it back up… doing an entire country re-boot… before it will change our government, and/or our society? 48 hours? A week? At what point is there no going back.. or recovering, from the Net being shut off for any length of time? I mean, let’s say some clown drops the Internet for a week. Well, within a week’s time our society will be well on it’s way to something like in the movie, “The Purge”. Can we recover from that? Do the lights suddenly go back on and we head back to work the next day (a week later) expecting lunch at McDonald’s? Not likely at all.
More considerations… if our basement cyber terrorist does this to just the good old U.S. of A. and leaves the rest of the world alone… uhh… the rest of the world markets will collapse, subsequent fear ensues affecting civil order… it would not be “just” an American problem. Think of an international response of “WTF is going on???”
As if this wouldn’t be enough, let’s shift gears here a bit.
Those Eyes In The Skies
A while back China sent up a missile to destroy one of its non-functioning satellites. Certainly a wake-up call to our defense ability knowing that if China can do this to their own, it’s not a stretch to assume the same technology would be available for Russia (who is trying to develop satellite-killing missile launching from aircraft) or any other country. In fact, forget missile launch.. lasers can take down a sat. No big deal, you think?
Here’s some sobering news… the sats are intertwined with the Internet; take down the right sats and you literally will bring down the Internet… and there would be no “quick” re-boot from that. Our world-wide Internet is fed by comm sats, or vice versa.
Remember that GPS that finds your Uber driver or delivers your pizza? If any of those GPS sats are destroyed.. well, again.. the entire Internet becomes worthless. Just destroying those sats alone could very well assign us as the new Stone Age as the trickle-down effect to society takes over.
If we truly want to consider self-annihilation… and live through it in some Stone Age environment.. forget the nukes… just take down the Internet… far less fallout.
Could Nature Take It All Down?
The logical natural threat is from our Sun; it is possible solar flares at certain intensities could destroy electronic circuits in sats and on the ground. It is thought that such a solar flare is what caused the major power outage years ago along the Eastern Seaboard. Except more intense solar storms would actually destroy power pole transformers and the IC boards in electronic devices. It would not even be reasonable to assume we have backup parts, much less people to repair and replaces electric infrastructure.
For you “Terminator” movie goers, think “Skynet”. Interfacing artificial intelligence into our technology will spread like wildfire once the technology is nailed down. This threat would not quite be a natural threat or fall into a threat from fellow humans. We have yet to determine how AI can be controlled and not react on its own creator.. us humans. But AI is inevitable. The existence of mankind could be decided by what mankind technologically evolved into; from tinkering with static charge by the early Greeks, to the curiosity on that key on the kite string reacting to the electric charge from the lightning, to the storing all of man’s acquired knowledge since the beginning on a single thumb drive. The threat of self-annihilation by our own creation.
Just A Final Note On The Current Russian Hacking…
To engage in this kind of effort is essentially a learning process; understanding how code reacts and how creative a hacker can get in creating code that interferes. There’s no manual. In fact, many times separate groups.. or teams, could be working on certain aspects of looking for potential code weaknesses, as well as to isolate and secure their own internal functions from being known by one single person. It is not inconceivable that during this process to “just meddle” a vulnerable piece of code could expose a trail that could lead to far more ramifications if not monitored correctly. I’m not suggesting at all that Russia tinkering with our voting technology is going to expose a vulnerability that will lead to taking out the electrical grid… but I am indeed suggesting just that, if they decide to search inside other areas of interfaced technology… which you know they have, as likely we have.
When you add up all the potential threats and possibilities that might lead us to some quasi-apocalypse.. I consider this threat to be the greatest, along with disease. Nukes aren’t a big deal anymore when other options are available that afford a survivability much more cleanly.
How Do We Stop This From Happening?
We can’t totally stop it.. but we can reduce the risk. First off, use your vote to support a comprehensive defense of the world’s cyber activities by voting for leaders that care and take action… starting with getting the right president in office. Second, it’s inevitable for man to continue to pursue technological and scientific advancements so it’s necessary to try and achieve some level of oversight and or regulation where necessary.. and our leaders in Congress need to step up to the task. Third… understand that the risk of a collapse from some man-made cyber tinkering.. or.. natural solar events.. can happen… and is likely a matter of “when”. As this is being written NASA has sent a probe under the Parker project to the Sun to get data on how the Sun works. This is the first probe of its kind. This is the kind of thing needed to learn how we might address solar flares that could devastate the Earth’s electric grid and computer networks.
As I indicated earlier… my opinion is that this is the riskiest scenario… and could very well happen regardless what we try and do. But we have to try.
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