Friday, 5 October 2012

CNN's War On Cyber Terrorism - A Fictional Drama Set in the Situation Room

In February 2010 the cable network ran a live simulation under the name 'We Were Warned - Cyber Shockwave", where Wolf Blitzer guided viewers through a fictional scenario of digital terrorism.
To avoid a War Of the Worlds-like panic, CNN made it very clear, that is was only a product of fiction; but how far were they from the truth? A situation like this could easily happen tomorrow: a Russian computer infects smarthphones via the application 'March Madness', and the virus goes viral within a few hours. Soon it shuts down communication channels, power networks, and due to the blackouts, telecommunication and traffic get shut down as well. Hospitals have only 12 hours left on their backup generators, and the governments hands are tied, the president has no other choice but to declare martial law.
You can watch the whole show on YouTube, or read the transcript on the CNN homepage.

What CNN is trying to reenact, is the 'War Room', reserved for the President of The United States, that comes with a bunch of military personel and a group of advisers (probably a red phone too), for situations involving national security and requiring military action. The most infamous depiction of this roundtable was in Stanley Kubrick's Dr.Strangelove, accompanied by a brilliant performance of Peter Sellers. Entertainment however, was not the only goal of CNN, since their team included experts like the former director of the CIA General Michael Hayden among other high ranking security experts and former advisers.

The event was organised by the Bipartisan Policy Center, but the meaning behind it goes further than politics.  We have reported earlier, that closely linked systems, like the world food trade network, can serve as transmitters for certain viruses, causing a rapid failure of the whole system. Take any countries online network, and you get the same result. One computer is enough to infect and eventually take down the whole system. In 2010 researchers from Boston published a paper in the scientific journal Nature, that pointed out the Achilles heal of strongly interconnected networks. The failure of one point in the system can take down all the others, so the bigger the network is, the more vulnerable it gets.

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