What Will the Impact of a Massive Attack in Cyberspace Be?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Joel Harding


If and when a foreign nation state unleashes their cyber forces against another nation, the initial blow will most likely be crushing to anything or anyone in cyberspace. 

Large chunks of our communications will be cut off, most likely everyone will be severely impacted.  Certainly almost nobody will have a functioning internet, we might have local connections but that really doesn’t help anyone very much. 

Our cell phone network will almost certainly be knocked out of action. Nothing that requires satellite communications will function, especially if their computer support is also affected. 

Microwave connections, WiFi, WiMax will most likely not work, for the same reason, but if they do they will be severely overused. AM and FM radio will function locally but communications outside one’s own area will be severely limited, news will be sporadic and surely rumors must be controlled. 

Our only reliable means of communication over distance will default to shortwave radios, to amateur radio operators, many of whom are already voluntarily provide backup communications for many governments.

Our economy will grind to an immediate halt, without communications most of what we know will cease to exist. Cash will be our sole means for financial transactions but not many people have a large stash of small bills hidden in convenient containers. 

Inflation will go through the roof, demand will far exceed supply and since we have no means of telling suppliers our demands and no way to pay the shippers, our needs will be strongly affected.

It is very likely our electrical infrastructure will also be shut down and without communications it will be extraordinarily difficult to repair. If it gets very hot or very cold this will strain a weakened electrical grid and most likely overload local networks.

Most likely our transportation network will slow down, mass transit and large carriers depend on communications. Trains cannot run without knowing which way the other trains are riding, I seriously doubt we still have a telegraph network acting as a backup communications system. 

Container ships and oil tankers cannot run efficiently but there are going to be extreme problems in the ports.  Civilian airplanes will be grounded, commercial flights won’t get you home.  Small planes might operate but there won’t be proper repair facilities in the short term.

Just go on down this list of critical infrastructure, as established by DHS.  Most would be severely obstructed with the loss of communications.

In any and every war, civilians are the unfortunate victims of warring nations.  Do not think for one second that your umbrage will stave off a single attack. Today, however, we no longer do carpet bombing, we don’t burn the land or salt the earth. 

We have munitions that can enter through one window and explode at a precise depth. The problem with war today is that our world is so interwoven that everybody will be severely impacted.  You might not be a combatant, but you will be a victim.

Now… as I have been saying for 10 years now, it’s not going to be that bad.  At the first opportunity we’ll reboot our computers, reload the latest tape backups and fix what is broken. 

Everybody will suddenly be involved in fixing broken infrastructure, starting with your personal work space, then your office, then those around you and finally, you will fix what you can as you can.  Life may suck for a little while, but then…  life will go on.

In the meantime, look up a local amateur radio operator aka ham operators and thank him or her, for continuing a proud tradition.  Most likely they will provide a huge necessary service, allowing many of us to dig out from beneath the figurative rubble of the first major attack in cyberspace.

The problem is we have fewer and fewer ‘Hams’.  I was one for many years but I haven’t turned on my radios for years. I’ll start a refresher course now:  A – dit-dah.

Cross-posted from To Inform is to Influence

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Richard Stiennon Excellent Joel. I agree completely. Disruptions followed by recovery. Life goes on. My fear is the massive cyber security legislation that will follow a digital Katrina.
Joel Harding Thank you, Richard. This compliment from you truly makes my day. I regard you as an expert in this field.
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