But it’s more important than that, of course. Unless you have a smart toilet (it’s a thing; look it up), your bathroom may be one of the few places left untouched by the internet.
A car ran into a poll a few blocks from my house last Tuesday. As a result, the internet was off for thousands of people in our neighborhood for several hours. I couldn’t watch TV, talk on my landline or pay my bills online. In the end, the inconvenience was temporary and relatively minor, but it was a reminder of how much we rely on the internet for everyday life.
More startling, I recently received an email informing me that an electronic security key I had acquired to protect my email from hackers contains a flaw. Instead of protecting me, it makes my email more vulnerable.
Worse, I wasn’t sure whether the notice was legitimate or a clever attempt to compromise my security — a confusion that remained until an IT worker at the paper told me it was real and I needed to take action.
Even more startling, an internet provider in Murray was attacked last weekend by a “distributed denial of service,” or DDoS scheme. The attacker demanded $750 in bitcoin to go away, and in the meantime slowed service to a crawl for several hours. The provider, Sumo, told the Deseret News it didn’t pay the ransom, figuring that would only encourage more attacks.
And much more startling that all of these, a security company called Red Balloon recently discovered a flaw in Cisco routers that could allow a hacker to get hold of all the data that flows through it, all while the router would keep telling everyone else it was still operating correctly.
Why is this a problem? The Cisco 1001-X routers are used by businesses, corporate offices and stock exchanges. As Lily Hay Newman wrote for wired.com, “Given Cisco’s ubiquity, the potential fallout would be enormous.”
Thankfully, the flaw was discovered, and by a security company, not a nefarious hacker. But experts worry about the fix and the “novel concepts” the flaw may have introduced to people with bad intentions.
If you aren’t getting the point yet, I’ll spell it out for you. The more interconnected our world becomes, the more vulnerable we become. As Phillip Lohaus wrote recently for the American Enterprise Institute, “Since 2015, the number of devices connected to the Internet has increased by nearly 40 percent.” For hackers, this has increased potential targets and ways to exploit weaknesses.
Against this frayed and distressed backdrop, a risk-analysis company called SecurityScorecard released a report a few days ago examining the computer networks of 29 political parties in 11 nations.
By now, most people are familiar with Russian attempts to influence elections in the free world, and with their infiltration of servers belonging to the Democratic Party in 2016. The report found that both Republicans and Democrats have improved security since then, but that both parties still are vulnerable to a dedicated hacker — one, say, with the kind of funding a major government could provide.
The Mueller Report confirmed what numerous U.S. intelligence agencies have found, which is that Russia wants to meddle in our elections and disrupt our society in general — something many people can’t seem to emerge from their partisan foxholes long enough to acknowledge.
Younger Americans might be prone to smirk at older people who have trouble navigating the many facets of the digital world. The truth, however, is that few of us, young or old, truly understand it, or its vulnerabilities.
New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong compared the Cisco problem to being told the steel beams in the building where you work are vulnerable but “probably OK.” They might fall apart if the wind blows a certain way or the temperature is just right, or then again, they might just buckle. “I’d say this kind of risk is just unacceptable,” she said.
Indeed, it is. It also sounds a lot more dangerous than a sewage system failure, and like a wakeup call for the nation to take cyber security more seriously.