December 11, 2003

Connectivity and critical systems

Could the August 14th East Coast power blackout have been catalyzed by the Blaster computer worm? As Bruce Schneier observes in a recent article, evidence seems to suggest that it was, probably because some computers at FirstEnergy were connected to the Internet. This suggests a greater problem, and something we must be extremely cautious about in the future: as technologies become increasingly networked, the number of possible vectors for attackers or worms to access systems will radically increase. This is of particular concern when the networked systems are in some ways "critical" since their failures could have dire consequences.

As cases in point, in addition to the computers at FirstEnergy, other critical systems have failed or been attacked because various technologies were networked together. For example, Diebold's ATM machines were infected with the Nachi worm. The Slammer worm caused portions of a 911 emergency response system to fail. And a virus forced cell phones in Japan to call the equivalent of 911. What other critical systems are connected to a network? How will they fail or be attacked in the future? And how serious will those failures or attacks be? Posted by Tadayoshi Kohno at December 11, 2003 03:04 PM