Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Links

  • 90% of the hurricane Sandy power outages have now been fixed, but the last 10% are likely to be stubborn.  The tick up on 11/8 in the graph above will be due to winter storm Athena.  Bad news when the winter storms start beating you up before you've finished fixing the outages from the last of the summer storms.
  • The disaster preparedness economy.
  • Kevin Kelly asks how many people can a rogue genius kill?  Has the number increased over time?   His answers are "a few hundred" and "no".  What fun!  (Yes, I'm a ghoulish security guy, so I think this kind of thing is interesting to think about).  My instincts have been that it is getting easier for a single individual to make a bigger impact, but I have to confess that I can't think of a clear demonstration of the possibility being real yet.  Certainly if we think in terms of monetary costs instead of deaths - single author computer worms have been estimated to do damage in the billions or even tens of billions (12).  Most of those were amateurish - if someone really good ever goes rogue, it could be a lot worse.  This compares, for example, with Timothy McVeigh's old school fertilizer bomb, an attack that could have been perfectly well carried out in 1925, and which caused something shy of $1b.  I should think in terms of deaths, the real possibilities are going to be down to what a lone bioterrorist could do, which I'm not well informed about.
  • Bonus question: is there any conceivable scenario in which a lone rogue genius could single-handedly trigger a civilizational collapse?
  • Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis.


Michael R said...

Bonus answer: It depends on how small a trigger the civilization in question allows for.

Consider the supercritical slope of a sandpile, where the addition of a single grain at the top can cause the simultaneous collapse of all sides.

Consider the case of Lt. Col. Stanslav Petrov:

Perhaps the bonus question is better phrased thus: Is there any conceivable scenario in which a civilization would allow itself to become so structurally prone to collapse that a lone rogue genius would be able to push it over the edge.

Regrettably, I believe all evidence suggests the answer to that question is yes.

Burgundy said...

Strangely, I posted something similar on the Oil Drum. About cases of anthrax been found amongst heroin users in Europe. US weaponised swine flu killing a Korean farmer some 10 years ago. Pure conjecture, but I'd say attempts or tests have been in progress for some time to initiate some kind of pandemic. By single or multiple actors?

I believe garage sized biolabs are now feasible, which means bio-terrorism is also feasible. Again conjecture, but it seems to me that creating a pandemic isn't easy and early attempts have so far failed. Is that why the military never really pursued their development, due to the difficulty of creating the critical mass required to make the weapon effective, rather than because they were to awful to use?

Technology is certainly empowering the individual in many ways (eg. Julian Assange and wikileaks). I certainly think it is within the realms of possibility that an individual could trigger the sand pile to collapse.

Ben said...

Thomas Newcomen's attempt is still a work in progress. I'll let you know how it works out in 2100.

sunbeam said...

Just to point out something.

It's pretty obvious the intelligence agencies of various countries employ programmers.

Can you think of a more obvious thing to do than for a state agency to "hack" a virus or worm, and blame it on an anonymous hacker?

There was that whole Iranian centrifuge thing in the past year.

And going back more than a decade, I used to work in the networking field. A coworker once stated to me that he thought the companies that made antivirus products were the same people that made the viruses. His reasoning was how else did they find them so quickly and find a solution for them?

I'm not a programming guru, but the cynic in me found it plausible.

Stuart Staniford said...

Sunbeam - on security companies writing the viruses: I work in the computer security industry. Ten years ago we would *joke* about doing that when things were slow, but I'm not aware of any cases where anyone did. Nowadays we don't bother joking about it - there's so much bad crap going down all the time that we spend all our time keeping up with it and the idea of adding to it wouldn't make for a particularly funny joke.