In case you missed it, today the Internet stopped working. Okay, not the whole Internet, but enough of it to make a lot of people on the east coast very unhappy.
One of the Internet’s major domain name service providers was attacked by hackers who basically harnessed the bandwidth of tens of millions of online devices to dump a massive amount of junk data on the provider’s servers. Their computers were simply overwhelmed, and couldn’t go on processing legitimate data. One commentator I read compared it to trying to drink from a fire hose.
Apparently this attack was expected, at least by Internet security professionals.
One cyber security expert, Bruce Schneier, wrote a blog post predicting this attack over a month ago. He said someone (his guess is China or Russia) has been testing the limits of major companies along the Internet’s “backbone” for some time now. Like a series of feints from an besieging army intended to determine a fort’s defensive weaknesses, these hackers have been sending larger and larger packets of data to the service providers, testing their limits and learning about their reactions. Presumably the purpose is to learn how to do exactly what was done today. As Schneier wrote:
“These companies are seeing more attacks using three or four different vectors. This means that the companies have to use everything they’ve got to defend themselves. They can’t hold anything back. They’re forced to demonstrate their defense capabilities for the attacker.”
All of this reminded me of a news story from last May, about the fact that the US nuclear missile launch control system is run by computers that still use 8″ floppy disks. According to this article at The Conversation the military is not alone:
“Banks, air traffic control systems and many core civil or military functions rely on technology that is well past its sell-by date.”
So a lot of America’s most sensitive infrastructure is controlled by out of date technology. Sounds crazy, right? The birdbrains over at CNN certainly thought so, and spun that story like it was a bad thing, with Jake Tapper snarking, “….maybe we’ll have Nintendo Game Boys controlling our nukes by the next Presidential election.” But not so fast. The fact is, like famous people who have gone back to using flip phones, much of America’s most sensitive infrastructure is still controlled by out of date technology, intentionally.
One simple reason: you can’t hack a computer system run by floppy disks. And today we found out that can be a very good thing.