Cyber Shockwave

Published: 2010-02-20
Last Updated: 2010-02-21 00:24:41 UTC
by Marcus Sachs (Version: 1)
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At 8 pm EST (0100 UTC) on February 20th and 21st CNN will air a program called "Cyber Shockwave" which was filmed last Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  I was invited to be in the studio audience during the taping of the program.  I am frankly disappointed with the way it turned out.  First, the scenario used as a backdrop is not realistic.  The presumption is that a smartphone application is used to crash large portions of the nation's cellular phone system, which then leads to outages in the POTS (plain old telephone system) networks, which leads to loss of air traffic control, disruptions at the New York Stock Exchange, and massive power outages.  As most of our readers know, such a cascading effect across multiple networks and systems is not likely.  Not saying it's impossible, just not likely.  The second issue is the fact that the people playing the role of National Security Council members failed to recognize the role of the private sector until well into the second hour.  The government does not own or operate the communications infrastructure in the United States.  To leave the private sector out of the conversation is a massive oversight.  To be fair, the panel does recognize that the private sector has a role, but it comes after a long deliberation about how helpful the government should be.

My fear is that the average viewer will come away from this program convinced that the scenario is real (after all, why would CNN show something that is not real?) and that only the government can help lead us into a world of peaceful coexistence in cyberspace.  As most (hopefully all) of our readers know, cyberspace is very complex and security comes not from just the private sector or just the government but jointly, with each party playing a very important role.

I invite you to watch the program then post your comments or thoughts below using the COMMENT feature.

ps - watch the two maps, the one of the cell phone outages and the one of the electric grid failures.  The cell phone maps show "green" where there is 100% operation, including areas of the country where there is no coverage at all.  The electric power map is actually a map of the highway system.  Watch the highways go dark later in the simulation.  I've never seen highways go dark during a power failure (unless it's at night.)

Marcus Sachs
Director, SANS Internet Storm Center

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