By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Several years ago there was a popular movie “The Perfect Storm”.
It became a commonly used term to describe everything from politics to economics.
And like many other terms and phrases, in 2021, “The Perfect Storm” captures the essence of circumstances and has come true with a vengeance.
When it comes to the repercussions of 2020, the hits keep coming.
And, as with almost every disaster or challenge, the precursors have been visible, if not tangible for months, if not years.
As the economy returns, COVID vaccines become more widespread, supply chain glitches become more evident. Everything from gas to building supplies to cars all seem to be in short supply – and, among other things, supply and demand dynamics kick in and prices increase.
Inflation and basic commodity shortages are two things many of us have never seen before.
And then factor in a distinctly modern challenge; hackers and ransomware.
Physical threats, from sabotage to severe weather, are difficult enough to deal with.
But who of us can even begin to prepare for digital and cyber attacks?
Most difficulties can be dealt with. Any given problem can be resolved, or made worse, by our response to it.
A fuel shortage, for example, may be suffered through with minimal sacrifice, or, as in recent news, made vastly worse because of panic buying by people who didn’t really need gas.
When it comes to COVID, February of 2020 is considered a “lost month” when we, individuals, governments and health care systems could have intervened to a growing, ominous threat and saved countless lives and multi-billions of dollars. (We, here at Tacoma Daily Index, warned of the upcoming pandemic back in early 2020 – https://www.tacomadailyindex.com/blog/2020-one-month-at-a-time-january/2446151/).
In short, challenges and difficulties very rarely come without warnings and precursors.
Even hacker attacks and ransomware threats come with a fair amount of warnings – and time to prepare.
Back in the summer of 2019 I attended a workshop on cyber security.
I heard presenters from the government, the FBI, Microsoft and many others. The consensus was clear – hacking is inevitable.
In the digital time frame, an old saying of those who work in internet security is “There are two categories of businesses in the world – those who have been hacked, and those who don’t know that they have been hacked.”
Every business, every utility, every college and every military or government institution is vulnerable.
Some hacking is malicious, some is targeted and some is vindictive. Hackers have different motives that could be criminal, military, political, financial, personal, romantic or just opportunistic.
From disgruntled former employees to corporate spies to bored teenagers, no institution or individual is safe.
I used to know someone who worked in IT security with a major aircraft manufacturer in the Los Angeles area. They bid for and held many government and military contracts.
He held the highest security clearance.
Their standard policy was to change their passwords every forty-five minutes.
That was several years ago.
There are few certainties in life, but one of them is that you can be guaranteed that your old passwords are floating around cyberspace somewhere.
If you use a mash-up of your pet’s name, phone number and current friend or favorite sports team or hobby, a diligent hacker or their algorithm, has probably figured it out.
And almost certainly put it out for sale on the “dark web”.
The bottom line is that there is no permanent protection and the potential threats are nearly infinite.
“Threat-scape” is a phrase cyber security people use.
Internet connectivity is our access to the world. And the world’s access to each one of us – at any place or any time.
As we (or at least most of us) have learned from COVID, potential “infections” can come from anywhere.
Consider any business or agency; how many legitimate and presumably safe, vendors, contractors and partners do we come into contact with in any given work day or week?
How many disgruntled workers or customers are in your company’s history?
It takes an average of six months for an intrusion or hack to be discovered. A lot of money can be moved to bogus accounts or proprietary information compromised in that time.
And it is not just information or money that is vulnerable.
As we have seen recently, fuel pipelines can be hacked and essentially stop travel in the most populated center of the USA.
Imagine the impact of a fuel stoppage in the middle of a frigid New England winter.
The ransomware attack could have been much worse. And far worse cyber assaults are on their way.
The Russian Web Brigades, for example, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_web_brigades) work full time to disrupt and cause chaos world wide.
Consider, for example, the hacking of urban sewage systems. Contamination of water supplies, and spread of disease would only be the beginning.
A recent study showed that 30 governments worldwide paid keyboard armies to spread propaganda and attack critics.
According to the report, these governments used paid commentators, trolls, and bots to harass journalists and erode trust in the media. Attempts were also made to influence elections in 18 of the countries.
We are not helpless. Vigilance is the cost of citizenship in the digital world.
You can see more about cyber-risk potential here – https://www.uschamber.com/cyber-abc#/.
In short, we inhabit a near-permanent “Perfect Storm.” And this “storm” is not passing.
For better or worse, all of this, from hackers to supply chain problems and inflation, is of our own making.
Preparation and protection, from masks to better passwords, will make us all safer.