A Mad Man’s Guide to Digital Threat Preparedness
What if the light goes out? Or does the ATM network go down? Or have digital giants like Google, whom I trust with important information, come under attack?
These are common questions right now, as Russian tanks move through Ukraine and meet our expectations of global stability. After all, Russia and those who can act on its behalf have already shown the ability to attack our digital infrastructure, and we don’t know what President Vladimir V. Putin might be willing to do if mounting sanctions. has surrounded them.
But first, let’s be clear about one thing: There is no sign of immediate danger to you. This is not true for people who live in Ukraine or have had to flee, so consider helping them first if you can.
National security officials say there is no specific, credible cyber threat against the homeland of the United States. The United States also possesses its wide-ranging cyber capability, including penetration into the Russian electrical grid, which could alert Putin to a mutually assured disruption.
However, the federal Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency has urged organizations and individuals to be prepared for the possibility that the situation could change.
It names coronavirus researchers and industries and organizations at particular risk, including the health, pharmaceutical, defense, energy, video-game and aviation industries. Some of them aren’t surprising: Federal officials suspect Russian citizens were behind ransomware efforts such as the fuel shortage in the wake of colonial pipeline shutdowns last year and the technology slump in hospitals in 2020.
The good news – if there could ever be one in a global moment like this – is that the precautions you should take right now are the same as those you take in preparation for a natural disaster or any power outage. There are other kinds of things you should be doing no matter what.
Protecting (and duplicating) your data
Involving global powers, digital brinkmanship can make you feel like there is only so much you can do to help. But good digital hygiene is actually a form of civil defense in its own right.
The hacking of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign began with something we can all understand: a phishing email requesting a password change. If you work in any type of sensitive job, you may be vulnerable to personal email as well.
“They want your passwords,” said Karen Walsh, who runs a marketing company that helps cybersecurity companies explain their capabilities in plain English, “because people reuse passwords between home and work.” We do.”
Eric Gosh, an Air Force veteran who spent some of his time rescuing sensitive technology from Russia, now runs a Chicago technology consulting firm. He constantly reminds customers to ask themselves three questions when they receive strange emails, and the answer to all of them should be yes: Is this from someone I know? Is this what I was expecting? Is it in the format I was expecting?
“If the answer is no, pick up the phone and call,” he said.
Ms. Walsh recommends a tried-and-tested 3-2-1 plan for backup: three copies of any needed data in two different formats or types of storage media, one of which is in the cloud.
For example, if you’re currently undergoing sensitive medical treatment, it’s wise to retain multiple copies of your records, keeping in mind the plethora of malware engulfing hospital systems in 2020. Your health care provider may have those, of course — but you can ask for and keep your copy in the cloud as well as in a thumb drive or paper folder.
there’s more. Update the operating system on your devices, or better yet, enable automatic updates. Write down the required street addresses and phone numbers, take a screenshot or photograph, just in case.
Google Cloud’s chief information security officer, Phil Venables, offered some reassurance this week about whatever you may have personally stored through Google.
“We exhibit a healthy paranoia,” he said of his team. There’s what he called “massive” replication and distribution in his system, so clearing the cloud of everywhere, everywhere would be a tall order.
And there’s a good chance that won’t be the target anyway. “Attack coming from nation states and certain criminal groups often goes after targets with the things they want – defense or media or dissidents,” he said. “They come on those accounts rather than the overall infrastructure.”
deal with disruption
The power and communication infrastructure that allow technology to function is not something only individuals can defend. Here, any post-lights-out preparations hopefully you’ve already done in case the weather or an unexpected disruption affects your life.
That means flashlights for everyone in the house, fresh batteries every time, candles and matches, solar-powered sources for small appliances, portable power stations and backup generators if you can afford and find one. It’s also always a good idea not to let your car’s gas tank sit half empty or even below.
Keeping a small pile of emergency cash aside only makes sense if you remember where you put it. Most likely, you won’t need it—and if you don’t have an obvious place to hide it, such as a safe, it can easily slip your mind. Share the space with someone you trust, and set a quarterly calendar reminder so you don’t forget it’s in a little used shoe that expires on Goodwill when donated two years from now It is possible.
Furthermore, David N. Tente, an executive at the Industry Association for the People Concerned with ATMs, reminded me this week that there is no single ATM network, as some have independent operators while banks control others. “If someone was able to deactivate your favorite ATM, you can certainly find another ATM to use for your withdrawals,” he wrote.
Other precautions are of the basic kind that make sense in the event of a big snowstorm. A few jugs of water are never a bad idea. And Mr. Ghosh, an Air Force veteran and technology advisor, said most people already have enough non-perishable food to feed a family in a pinch for at least a few days, a reasonable amount of time for proper officers. Eliminate digital disruptions. He stocks his freezer with chicken broth for pho, a Vietnamese soup.
My conversation with him this week was marked by a kind of calmness. He wasn’t one to sabotage Costco or pile up his shelves with items from prepper.com.
“Keep calm,” he said. “It’s easy to stay calm if you’ve done a little preparation. It’s not a new idea.”
And if something unexpected happens, take care of each other. That’s why he tells clients to print out the addresses of coworkers and others you don’t visit often enough to commit their locations to memory.
“If they don’t show up for a few days,” he said, “go check on them.”
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