In Writing

As new threats emerge, we keep looking in our rear-view mirror.  Never mind traditional terrorism.  What’s next?

I’ll admit to being lulled into a sense of security in the 1990s. The Cold War was over, that constant threat that scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid until the Berlin Wall fell when I was 19. No other obvious threat emerged. The nation was prosperous. We were the world’s only remaining super-power.

But that was an outdated view of the world, as we’d come to learn on a resplendently bright September morning in 2001. It wasn’t a new super-power that would alter our nation’s course. It was a shocking act that shook our belief in what horrors were possible. It was a new paradigm most of us didn’t see coming.

I, for one, was completely blind-sided by September 11th. It was as if life was talking to me in a new, horrible language I did not understand. I couldn’t process it. I hadn’t seen the signs. I hadn’t looked ahead. And so I was caught completely unawares.

I’m older now. I still believe in hope and goodness but I have a more sweeping view of history. I see that we often spend a lot of time looking backwards, reacting in old ways to new threats and worrying about things that aren’t really threats anymore. We respond with military force to terrorism – a club where a scalpel is required – and we pour billions into “the war on terror.”

While we continue to react to something that happened more than a decade ago, a new storm cloud of threat gathers: cyberterrorism. This time I’m paying more attention and it’s hard to miss the signs. I hope our government is doing the same, although the indications seem to be that it’s not.  For all the billions we spent on military equipment, we spend a paltry amount beefing up the security of our data infrastructure.

When the Sony hack happened, it was easy to focus on the gossipy titillation of the data revealed: snarky private emails from execs and the inside scoop on how much the stars make. But I’m not sure enough attention was paid to how the breach not only affected Sony, but what it reveals about what is possible.

This past week there was news about a hack on Anthem, an insurance company. The privacy of more than 80 million Americans was breached, including employees at Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Among the data stolen was social security numbers and other sensitive information. It’s been revealed that it appears that the hackers were after the data of government employees and defense contractors and that the attack bears the fingerprints of state-sponsorship.

I can’t even fully wrap my mind around what a full-scale cyberattack would look like, but the possibilities are chilling. With so much of our infrastructure now controlled electronically, there is very little that couldn’t be crippled by a cyberattack. Banks. Power plants. Hospitals.

What can we do? Probably the best thing we can do as individuals is speak up and call our representatives about it. On a personal scale, we can firm up our own electronic security with tougher passwords and better computer hygiene, although that won’t help much when big companies we deal with – retailers, insurance companies – are made vulnerable.

Maybe the best thing to do is stuff some cash in the mattress and start canning veggies.

Sorry, not funny, I know.

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