Cybercrime in Silicon Valley and worldwide is growing.
A while back in the south part of Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley), someone (s) severed fiber optic cables owned by AT&T, causing a disruption in telephone, Internet, ATM and other critical components of the our communications infrastructure.
Thousands of businesses, government agencies and individuals were affected: banks, fire stations and emergency 911 services, other businesses and residential customers. Oh…and cell phone subscribers who couldn’t make or receive phone calls, text messages or email.
While the FBI and other law enforcement officials tentatively ruled out terrorism, the act was clearly sabotage, possibly committed by someone familiar with tools necessary to open manholes where the fiber optic cables were buried.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, “…80 to 85 percent of cell phone traffic is delivered over wired networks.” Verizon, AT&T and Sprint-Nextel subscribers lost service for hours, but the wireless carriers couldn’t estimate how many subscribers were affected.
Cybercrime in the U.S.?
Most of us believe that our cell phone service is separated from wired phone and data services. Yet, cybercrime events should raise public concern over the fragility of the Internet communications networks connecting wired and wireless systems to major Internet backbones.
Last year, a number of articles in major publications revealed that China and Russia may have breached firewalls protecting the U.S. electrical grid, leaving software remnants in the system. Both Russia and China deny doing it; yet U.S. cybercrime experts claim otherwise and are studying potential threats against the U.S.
But it’s not only the electrical grid that should cause us to worry. Our water, natural gas and power plants, financial and other critical facilities are monitored and controlled largely via the Internet. The United States is dependent on an ocean of Web connectivity that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
In the movie “The Sum of All Fears,” a small nuclear bomb, placed in a Baltimore sports stadium by a disgruntled European Nazi, kills thousands of people, leading to a major confrontation between Russia and the United States. Before the nuke goes off, Morgan Freeman, one of the movie’s stars, comments to the U.S. President: “It’s the guy with one bomb I’m concerned about.”
Fortunately, a Jack Bauer “24”-type CIA worker, played by Ben Affleck, figures out what happened, and communicates directly with the Russian President, who offers to back down and save the world from nuclear holocaust.
Morgan Freeman’s concern about “the guy with one bomb” could easily apply to our Internet-controlled utility infrastructure. “The Sum of All Fears'” message is less about nuclear destruction than a collapse of our economy caused by hackers bringing down at-risk infrastructure. Our current global economic instability increases the risk as cybercrime flourishes.
The one incident in Silicon Valley is a warning of our vulnerabilities in a mobile, wireless, “Twitterized” world of instant, fragile communications across the vast expanse of the Internet. We should carefully consider how to better protect ourselves from those who would do us harm.