I was very interested in the comments on cyber attacks made by Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary and reported in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. It would seem that foreign hackers had the potential to take down the country’s power grid, financial networks and transport system.
In truth, I hadn't realised how much industry and our utilities relied upon the internet for the control of their systems. My first reaction was "Why on earth are they connected to the internet", as when I worked on computer systems for Air Traffic Control, it was absolutely forbidden for any operational system to be connected to the internet and the computers at various sites were connected by what at that time were described as "private circuits", although they were provided by BT.
I am out of touch with the current situation, but I would imagine that these days a so-called private circuit is now simply multiplexed onto one of the high speed broadband carriers, and the only private bits will be the connections at each end! Equally, where a circuit was only used rarely, say for the switching of remote equipment, the temptation to have a simple phone line and control the equipment via the internet in order to save cost would be overwhelming.
In the past few months we have seen the problems that can be caused by computer failure. Firstly there was the bank computer which prevented people from accessing their accounts or making payments, we are told this was the failure of a software update. Then yesterday we had the failure of the O2 mobile phone network, again apparently due to computer problems.
Being generous, I take the explanations at face value, but it does demonstrate in a very small way the damage that could be done by an enemy in a concerted attach on our computer systems.
I think that we should be very worried.