by Robert Arvay
The more complex a system is, the easier it is to destroy it. This is why one can cut a simple animal like a starfish in half, and both halves will live, while a mighty elephant can be killed with a single bullet.
Our nation is like the elephant. Advanced technology has made us into a superpower that is rightly feared by would-be enemies around the world. But that same technology has given us weaknesses which are potentially fatal. If it is an exaggeration to say that America can be destroyed by a single computer hacker, it won’t be an exaggeration for very long. The technological nightmare is upon us. This is not theory, it is fact, and the hackers have already fired the warning shot.
The weakness which makes us vulnerable is computer technology, the very technology that has multiplied our productivity, and made possible a thriving economy and myriads of modern conveniences too numerous to mention. Computers coordinate our travel, our airlines, railways and highways, as well as seafaring cargo ships. They make possible medical diagnosis and treatments that save untold lives. They protect our nuclear reactors, and even aim our nuclear weapons. And this is only scratching the surface. We have become utterly dependent on silicon processors and the people who program them.
The dark side is ominous. The computers that control safety features in automobiles can be hacked, that is to say, taken over, controlled by computer experts who may operate outside the law, and anonymously, and not for the benefit of the drivers and passengers, but quite the opposite. As more and more automobiles become more and more computerized, it is becoming increasingly possible that malicious hackers could cause tens of thousands of vehicles to suddenly accelerate to a hundred miles per hour, while disabling the brakes and steering. Thousands of collisions would instantly result. Massive numbers of people would be killed, maimed and/or injured in the space of a few seconds, while the nation’s entire highway system would become a gridlocked “highway of death” reminiscent of the First Gulf War.
This sounds like the premise for some fantasy James Bond spy novel, in which an evil genius aims nuclear death rays at all the capitals of the world, demanding trillions of dollars in ransom, and then decides to launch the death beam anyway—but this is not fiction. The potential is real.
The worst of it is that, no matter how carefully the automotive computers are designed, no matter how many safeguards are put in place, the hackers need succeed but once to achieve their catastrophic goal.
An example is the success with which the Stuxnet virus destroyed the Iranian centrifuges in that terrorist nation’s nuclear weapons factory. A single thumb drive, infected with the virus, was all it took to wreak havoc on the weapons plant. While this was only a serious setback for the Iranian terrorist regime, it signaled the potential to cause much more damage than to destroy equipment. One must assume that plans exist to attack the reactors themselves, perhaps unleashing vast amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding region.
If this can be done to the Iranians, one can be certain that America’s enemies are designing attacks on American infrastructure that will make Stuxnet seem child’s play by comparison.
Modern aircraft are becoming almost impossible to fly without some assistance from computers. This is especially true of high performance military jets, in which the onboard computers monitor at least a dozen critical aircraft functions at once, making tens of adjustments (or more) per second, continuously. No human pilot could keep up that pace.
While the nightmare scenario would be for enemy forces to take control of our airlines and jet fighters, a much more modest goal could be almost as destructive: the disabling of thousands of aircraft in flight, with one push of one button.
Finally, all of this could be accomplished by inserting numerous viruses, undetected, as “sleeper cells,” inside the computers that monitor and coordinate our air traffic, banking, power grids and other systems essential to our national survival. The “sleeper cells” could be activated at the precise moment that an enemy nation, or terrorist force, found most advantageous.
As with nuclear weapons technology, the only defense is the credible threat of retaliation. But how does one threaten retaliation against a fanatical enemy willing to destroy himself to gain access to seventy virgins?
How does the elephant destroy a starfish?
Robert Arvay is a Contributing Writer to The Patriot’s Notepad