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Panix In The Year Zero

Those of us who use the venerable panix.com for one reason or another -- hosting commercial sites, email, whatever -- will long remember this weekend. The domain was hijacked for some nefarious purpose, as yet undetermined, by some party, as yet unidentified, by some means, as yet incompletely understood. Wait until this happens to you to find out how much fun this is. And just so you know, it could happen to you at any time, though apparently the weekend is preferred because it makes it so much harder to sort out the problem, thus increasing the amount of damage done.

I'm put in mind of the Richard Clarke article I wrote about the other day. The scenario he imagines is different, but related. This hypothetical cyber-catastrophe takes place in 2008:

Then, as cybersecurity teams were attempting to figure out what had happened, a second worm penetrated the operating system of the most widely used routers on U.S. computer networks. Once inside, the worm found the routing tables, called border gateway protocols, that told Internet traffic where to go. It scrambled the tables so that packets were lost in cyberspace. Confused by the traffic errors, many of the routers exceeded their processing capabilities and collapsed.

The stock market closed, as did the commodities markets. Major hospitals canceled all but emergency surgeries and procedures. Three major power grids experienced brownouts. Police and state militia units were ordered into the cities to maintain order and minimize looting. Millions of Americans, now staring at blank computer screens, were sent home from work.

I've not seen one mainstream media article about what happened to panix.com this weekend. Apparently few people who are in a position to actually do something about the vulnerability of the internet really care about this stuff. One of these days, it's all going to fall down, at some wicked party's behest, and the public is going to look around blankly and wonder how the hell this could happen. The government's response will be "who could have guessed"? You know, like "who could have guessed they would fly airplanes into buildings"?

There are plenty of people in positions to actually do something about securing the internet (to the extent such a thing is really possible) who have been told of the danger the internet is in. Few of them seem to actually be doing much about making sure it gets secured.

Remember this when everything goes south: they knew it could happen; they knew it all along. Don't let them tell you otherwise.

And maybe this time, you should take the trouble to actually hold some people accountable.


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