March 31, 2014
By Gaye Levy
One of the most insidious end-of-the-world-as-we-know it scenarios is an an invisible attack on our power grid and the communication and information networks that drive our daily lives. I am not referring to a short term outage, as annoying and as disruptive that can be. What I refer to and even fear, it a true SHTF where we are without power and communications for months or even years.
Many authors have explored this topic along with the corresponding breakdown of society that will occur when factories cease to operate, medical services are unavailable, and banks and stores are permanently closed. As much as I try to envision this happening, I know that the real thing will be far worse than my imagination and certainly far more disruptive than a weekend test of off-grid skills.
That being said, wrapping your mind around the possibility of a cyber-attack is an important part of developing the proper survival mindset. Today I challenge you to consider the possibility of a cyber attack and to begin to prepare for this eventuality as you would any other disaster.
Richard Earl Broom, an upcoming Spring Book Festival author, has graciously provided Backdoor Survival with a thought-provoking “think piece” about the coming cyber war. Read, believe and act. It could happen.
THE COMING CYBER WAR
On the February 19, 2013 this headline appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
“China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S., Report Traces Attacks to Military Office’s Doorstep – Power Grid is the Target.”
How would you like to wake up some morning and find the power is off? No heat. No lights. No home appliances working. No electricity to operate the pump at the service station to gas your car. No cash register working at the store you normally frequent to pick up some milk and bread.
And… not because some snow laden tree limb fell on a power line, but because of an intentional, malevolent attack by a hostile nation. Your power company can’t estimate when your power is going to be restored, because it is not just some tree limb that’s busted a line, it was a purposeful, well thought out cyber attack that has really fouled up the computer systems that operate our national power grids. It will require an intense effort to unravel. Will the power be restored in days? Weeks? Months? Ever? Who knows?
The New York Times article identifies a People’s Liberation Army unit on the outskirts of Shanghai as the source of “…an overwhelming percentage of the attacks on American corporations, organizations and government agencies…” The article further reports these attacks are widespread and happening daily to probe our systems, our data and gather information about us.
“Guo Yue sat at the terminal in Shanghai at a secret location with senior party leaders present. She was ready to brief them. They sat, impassive, watching a large display screen in the room. She was looking at her screen on her laptop. The GCC Failure Report number simultaneously flashed on her laptop and also on the larger display screen. She spoke. “Excellent. Gentlemen as you see, it is working. It took us very little time to break into the GCC systems and install the malware. Their computer security is so lax.”
“One of the senior party leaders spoke, “I do not understand these people. Why do they go to global financial conferences and write papers that expose their own vulnerabilities? We sit quietly in a nice room sipping some tea and have our adversary explain to us how to defeat them. We learned there is an easy, single point of failure for global financial systems. Just put in some malevolent code at the single place they reconcile their daily trades and generate false, misleading results. They are so naïve. Really amazing.”
–From the novel Leaving The Trees, published July 2013 by Richard Earl Broome, page 33, All Rights Reserved.
Instead of an attack on our power grid, in my recent novel, Leaving The Trees, I developed a fictional scenario where the global financial systems were attacked by China and all brought down. One day people woke up to find ATMs had quit working, credit cards were shut off, and if they went to the bank, the bank employees were not certain if your balance was correct. Your bank, like all the others, froze your money in place along with everyone else’s. Over time the interstate commerce we all take for granted to deliver us food, gasoline, and the other necessities of life, ground to a halt. Business owners would not ship their goods hoping to be paid…someday. Things stopped. Chaos ensued.
Here are three recent headlines, about the cyber threat.
Washington Free Beacon: U.S. Military Not Ready for Cyber Warfare, Gen. Alexander tells Senate threat of major cyber attacks is growing, February 27th, 2014
New York Times: Report Calls for Better Backstops to Protect Power Grid From Cyberattacks, March 2nd, 2014.
Financial Post: Alberta bitcoin bank Flexcoin shuts down after hackers stole all of its online coins, March 5th, 2014
Not much appears to have changed in a year has it? And…how many among you have had your credit card recently replaced because of the massive computer security breach at Target?
I spent a significant part of my military career working with our nation’s intelligence community. All these events are what they would call, “indications and warnings” that something is going to occur, but …when? We do not know. However, with our technology-based civilization, we may not be able to withstand a “Cyber Pearl Harbor.” It could damage too much of our technology and frankly, if it is bad enough and long enough, we may never recover. This could sink us all.
So, as I sit at my desk on this beautiful Montana morning and write this think piece about the cyber threat facing us, I have to wonder what will it take to get our collective attention? While our nation copes with this, what is a prepper to do in the meantime?
Take charge, get real and get ready. When you prepare as an individual, aim for as much self-sufficiency as you can afford. Develop your Plan A, then a Plan B, and then a Plan C for each level of the deterioration of your capabilities. How will you prioritize the use of that gasoline driven generator you own, when the gasoline stops coming and you really don’t know how much longer you will have it running? What is the highest priority for use? What can wait? How you will plan this out?
When your bank graciously offers to stop sending you those annoying envelopes to your mail box, stuffed with those arcane paper statements, and just email them to you instead (which saves them tons of money and doesn’t do a thing for you), ignore them. Try to prove what your assets were worth if all the bits and bytes are long gone and the last statement you ever bothered to print out and save are a year old.
In short, think both more widely and much more deeply about all of this. Think through all the connections and moving parts of many of the things we take for granted. How will you survive if you find the systems and processes we are all so reliant on, suddenly disappear because a cyberattack? An attack launched without warning, which deftly nails us at a vulnerable point creating widespread, cascading catastrophic effects. And yes…we do have these vulnerable points, these single points of failure which have no back up systems readily available. As I sit here today and write this article, our adversaries are probing for them and making plans.
Think hard about these possibilities preppers. The coming cyber storm continues to gather.
About the Author: Richard Earl Broome has lived an extraordinary life rising from an Army private to an Army colonel who served on the White House staff for two Presidents of the United States as a member of the National Security Council staff. This was followed by a successful business career as a disaster recovery/business continuity expert. He now lives in a small community in Montana and is on the faculty at Montana State University.
What To Do Now
As Richard indicates, there are things we can do now to prepare for a cyber attack. As he says, develop a plan A, then a plan B, then a plan C. Don’t wait until the event happens to figure out what you will do if your initial plan fails.