Digital Conflict

By Kevin Coleman

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Kevin Coleman

Cyberattacks might threaten personal safety

Many people did not realize that June was National Internet Safety month. During that time I was contacted a number of times by researchers and investigators and a common theme emerged from their many questions. The question was: Is our safety affected by the increasing threats in cyberspace? The answer was easy: Yes. That has been stuck in my mind ever since.

For years now a debate has been underway over the idea that terrorists could mount a cyberattack on computers and supervisory control and data acquisition systems that result in physical destruction. However, back in 1982 a Soviet pipeline exploded and the cause of the explosion has been attributed to a computer system attack (a cyberattack in today’s terms).

Sources have stated that the CIA inserted a logic bomb into the control system and that caused the Siberian pipeline to explode. The U.S. Air Force rated the explosion at the 3 kilotons level (the equivalent of a small nuclear weapon). Targeting a Soviet pipeline linking gas fields in Siberia to European markets, the operation sabotaged the pipeline's control systems with software from a Canadian firm that the CIA had doctored with malicious code. Thomas Reed, a U.S. National Security Council aide during that period disclosed the cyberattack in his 2005 book, At the Abyss.

The Stuxnet cyber incident was recent proof of the physical destruction aspect with reportedly more than 1,000 damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges being replaced in Iran’s nuclear enrichment efforts. Practically everyone is using Stuxnet as the case example.  In fact, information has surfaced that China's fears of cyber attacks have been the primary driver behind their massive defense spending. 

There have been whispers of incidents thought to be caused by a cyberattack that have resulted in the loss of life, but no formal acknowledgement has taken place. This is a huge safety issue and one that needs to be addressed before we all read about the loss of life due to a cyberattack in the headlines of our newspapers.

Posted by Kevin Coleman on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:26 PM

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