Sunday, November 1, 2015

In The Dark

On this All Saints' Day, with Halloween behind us, people are catching their collective breaths now that the scary season has receded.  But it may not have for long. The ghosts and goblins may be gone for another year, but the esteemed journalist Ted Koppel has given us a new fear to worry about.  He's out promoting his new book "Lights Out," about how cyber-terrorists could hack their way into the North American electrical grid and plunge most of the United States and a good chunk of Canada into a blackout that could make the great East Coast blackouts of 1965 (which happened fifty years ago this month) and 2003 look like walks in the park.
Koppel, in promotional interviews for this book, says that the United States has enemies who would want to bring down the electrical grid. When asked in interviews whether the enemies would be the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, terror groups, or individual actors, he pretty much says, "Yes."  Koppel explains how easily the electrical grid could be taken offline for millions of people because it is increasingly dependent on the Internet to operate, with only a few holdouts such as rural cooperatives providing electricity to customers the old-school way, with no online components.  So what does that mean for you and me?  No phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury - in fact, it would be worse than "Gilligan's Island," because it would also mean no fresh water, no reliable food supply, and no law and order.  And, ironically, no Internet - a hacking of the power grid, the same grid that the Net is dependent on, would take us out of social media and put us into survival mode.
In researching his book and compiling the facts, Koppel concluded that neither the government nor the big electrical utilities appear to be doing much if anything about it.  Paul Stockton, a former Defense Department official with expertise in cyber-security, insists that Koppel is off the mark.  He told CBS that the government and the electric companies are doing what they can, setting up plans to manage the grid in the event of a computer-based attack and placing more resilience in government systems.
But - and you knew I was coming to a "but" - Stockton offered this caveat: "Their readiness is not where it needs to be, given that the adversary continues to strengthen the sophistication of the weapons that will be used against the United States."
Koppel, for his part, doesn't want Americans to think a nationwide blackout that lasts for weeks or months would be catastrophic.  He stresses that it would actually be worse than that.  He suggests that people start stocking up on freeze-dried food and bottled water as soon as possible, something the Mormons have done for over 175 years in preparation for the Second Coming.  He is that serious.
Given the blackout problems I've had these past six years, I no longer expect to go for a whole year without a power outage.  However, I now can conceive of the possibility of having to go for a whole year with one.        
Happy All Saints' Day.  And just remember that fear of evil doesn't go away entirely after October 31.    

No comments: