November 1, 2016
On the street where I grew up, the Adkins lived three doors down from me. Only three years separated the oldest brother, Dave, from the youngest, Chuck—with Ron squeezed in between. In the polite vernacular of the time, the brothers were universally defined as “rambunctious”. This didn’t mean that the Adkins boys were destined to be future wards of the state, they just always took things up a notch. When everyone else played “war” the weapon of choice was dirt clods, or maybe, depending on the season, old apples that had fallen from a neighbor’s tree. The Adkins played with rocks. Indoor activities were not limited to more pastoral activities like board games, since the brothers felt that anytime was the right time for a rousing game of tackle football, full contact hockey or, if they were feeling more subdued, basketball. From the time they woke up in the morning till they went to bed at night the house was a cacophony of thudding bodies, the violent percussion of skin meeting skin all punctuated by the occasional crash of some vase, lamp or piece of furniture that was better suited to a more genteel home environment. Mrs. Adkins always bore these assaults on her senses, and interior décor, with good humor and steely resolve, until the time Ron body slammed me, short of a first down, into a living room end table breaking some figurines that had been passed down to Mrs. Adkins by her mother. A shriek of anger brought our game to an immediate halt and, as the she picked up the remnants of her mother’s collection, she yelled to her three off spring, and presumably, their equally guilty friend, “This is why we can’t have nice things”. I still feel bad about it all these years later. Based on the increasing anti-social behavior of a number of anonymity cloaked miscreants, you can increasingly say this about the internet.
As many of you know, a well-coordinated DDoS made attempting to access sites like Twitter, Spotify, Reddit, CNN, Etsy and the New York Times an exercise in futility for a few million folks last week. Although the dust is still settling, it appears that due to the release of the source code for Mirai, multiple botnets were created and enslaved the DVR’s and IP cameras made by a Chinese company that also sells components to other vendors. Through this “high tech” hijacking, the perpetrators were able to launch their attack using these IoT components to overwhelm a DNS server that supported the effected companies. Nice.
At the present time, no one is sure who was behind this cyberattack, however, since the victimized technology was supplied by a Chinese company, this was probably not another unprovoked incursion by the folks in Beijing. While this does cut the suspect pool by about 1.5 billion people, I don’t think whoever did this is hiding in a dark corner somewhere waiting for a knock upon the door. As frustrating as the prospect that the person or group responsible for launching an attack of this magnitude will never be caught, the real issue, of course, is security. It’s been said, in a variety of forms, that something’s greatest strength can also be its greatest weakness. In a sense this is true of the situation we find ourselves in today. Although we are more connected than ever and information can move at the speed of light to locations across the globe, we are increasingly vulnerable to disruptive attacks on the infrastructure that support those capabilities. Whether It’s a rogue state or the fascistic actions of individuals and groups that cower in fear of disparate or competing opinions, our continued progress positively correlates to vulnerability. These concerns apply to individuals and governments alike.
Although security has always been a concern, it is entirely possible that the development of enhanced security schemes and platforms will serve as a governor on the progress of technologies such as IoT. Unfortunately, experience demonstrates that progress will always be the enemy of a militant fringe that seeks to arrest it or distort its potential to serve their own ends. Understanding the potential risks to the sanctity of your data has always been a planning consideration, but as the scope of potential attackers and their methods continues to grow, understanding and addressing areas of possible vulnerability will have to be factored into everything from the design of internal and external networks to cloud deployment strategies. It will always be possible to have nice things, but you’ll have to be even more careful about where you put them. With careful planning, and attention to detail, things usually work out in the end. I know it did for the Adkins brothers since Ron became a doctor and Chuck and Dave are lawyers, each with children of their own—all girls.