The dangers of computerized control of critical infrastructure

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

critical infrastructure1 The computerized controls of our critical infrastructure put this infrastructure at serious risk of hackers and cyber terrorism.

In the attempt to have everything controlled fast and efficient without the possibility of human error and human cost we have put everything at serious risk. While it is true that computers can, for instance, react to a surge in demand for electrical power much faster than the human operators could that used to manually put more turbines online humans can't be hacked.

The same is trues as regards to switching points on the railroad, the underground railroad system, and other other such chores, including making announcements and such like. However, as we have seen in other instances, all it requires is cyber criminals or, worse still, an “enemy of the realm” use such skills and a country, and more than just one country, could be paralyzed.

In addition to that an enemy could also use cyber attacks to cause death and destruction by a variety of means, from the simple derailing of trains to actually causing meltdown in a nuclear power station and such like.

Seeing the vulnerability and the apparent inability of systems to be properly protected against such happenings – and no, I am no Luddite and I love my computers – too much use of such systems might just be dangerous in the extreme.

Maybe it is time to have humans back in control, at least as far as mission critical infrastructure is concerned in the country. The entire country, and more than just the country, could be paralyzed by a cyber attack at the electricity grid, for instance.

I think that we all can imagine what impact that could have on everything and how many deaths this could cause, aside from the simple chaos.

Worse still if the attacker(s) could actually lock the system in such a way that a manual override also could not be affected, and the way things seem to be standing with those systems today this could be done as well.

We must seriously reconsider how we use computers and whether we would want them to be completely in charge of controlling our critical infrastructure, be this the utilities, the transportation infrastructure, and others.

Computers certainly have their place and have made life, in some ways, easier while at the same time they have also put us all under new strains, such as emails, while being a great and fast way to communicate also seem to demand immediate replies. But I digressed a little here...

I could not, for instance, do what I do without computers and the Internet, and thus I do like them and the Net but I do think that, as far as the critical infrastructure of our respective countries are concerned we may have to look at how we use computers there anew in light of the possibility of cyber attacks and full cyber warfare even.

© 2010