Hurt­ing more than just pix­els

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ed­i­to­rial ran in the Wash­ing­ton Post:

One fal­lacy about cy­ber­at­tacks is that they hurt pix­els, not peo­ple. A cy­ber­in­tru­sion might steal emails, empty bank ac­counts or com­pro­mise iden­tity but prob­a­bly can’t do real dam­age in the phys­i­cal world, or so the think­ing goes. There are ex­cep­tions: The Stuxnet worm that the United States and Is­rael un­leashed against Iran’s nu­clear en­rich­ment cen­trifuges caused phys­i­cal dam­age — com­pelling the ma­chines to spin too fast and break — but that was a so­phis­ti­cated sab­o­tage op­er­a­tion, not an ev­ery­day oc­cur­rence.

Now, the dan­ger has moved closer to ev­ery­day. The wave of mal­ware that spread across the globe last week, called Petya by some an­a­lysts (and NotPetya by oth­ers), sud­denly locked up com­puter sys­tems be­ing used to man­age oil com­pa­nies, air­line flights, elec­tri­cal grids, con­tainer ships, ports, banks and gov­ern­ment min­istries. Even the com­put­ers mon­i­tor­ing ra­di­a­tion at Chornobyl, scene of the world’s worst nu­clear ac­ci­dent, were si­lenced.

How far away is the mo­ment when a power out­age caused by a cy­ber­at­tack throws a hos­pi­tal into dark­ness, caus­ing pa­tients to suf­fer, or die? Or leads to even more fright­ful con­se­quences?

There is no magic so­lu­tion that can stop a threat such as this, one that crosses na­tional bound­aries and in­fects real-world sys­tems. The lat­est at­tacks show once again that, for all the won­ders of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion, bad ac­tors are con­stantly in­no­vat­ing too, look­ing for ways to dis­rupt, thieve and de­stroy.

There is no sub­sti­tute for vig­i­lance and de­fence, es­pe­cially pro­tect­ing all-im­por­tant crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, hope­fully stop­ping the mal­ware be­fore it man­ages to turn off more than just pix­els.

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