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Are You Cyber Proof Yet?

By: Tom Chatham

The events of the past few days show just how vulnerable the U.S. is to cyber warfare. Many people have read about the problems that can occur if the infrastructure is attacked and disabled or destroyed cutting everyone off to essential services. Here are some of the services that were compromised on just one day this week.

– The WSJ suffered computer problems resulting in outage

– Service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint suffered computer problems affecting their services

-The NYSE was down for almost 4 hours due to a computer “glitch”

– United Airlines was grounded nationwide as computer problems shut down their operations

These four incidents, while not officially due to cyber attack, are just an example of what is possible if cyber attackers wish to do some harm. These four incidents cover, transportation, communication, information and financial sectors of the economy. The very things society depends on to function correctly. The only one missing is power.

Some insiders believe this was just a beta test for things to come. If that is so then the American people have much to worry about. It is bad enough if these threats are foreign born but the American people have just as much to fear from their own government today. The executive orders and military posturing going on leave little room for speculation that elements of our government are planning and expecting something catastrophic to happen in the near future.

If the U.S. is hit with a massive cyber attack, it will cause chaos nationwide within minutes as services are interrupted and people find themselves without the support systems they rely on every day. The loss of services for a few hours is an inconvenience but the loss for several days or weeks would be life threatening. That is something most Americans are not prepared for. They have complete faith in the government to protect them and provide the things they need. That faith will be the undoing of many people when the time comes. That is because these people have abdicated their responsibility to take care of themselves and their family to the government.

The people that see or at least fear what could happen in an uncertain world, have taken the necessary steps to make a loss of services as minor as possible. Many of these people have gone off the grid to provide the every day necessities their family needs free of the trappings of modern society.

Even if you do not go completely off the grid, you can do many simple things to insure your family will be safe and secure when the electrons that modern society is built on stop flowing. There are many annual disasters and smaller problems that cut off services to people. It might be a flood, hurricane or ice storm that cuts you off from the outside world for days at a time. Many people have learned from their past experiences and taken steps to provide the things they will lose if that type of thing happens again. The problem is that the vast majority go back to their normal lives after suffering the hardship of disaster and think nothing more until it happens again.

When you think about the many different things that could happen to you it is easy to come up with a list of things you would suffer without. Being in a rural area and suffering from an ice storm that cuts off power, communications and travel ability is similar to what would happen if a cyber attack took down most systems in the winter.

You would need the same back-up systems in both cases. You would need food, water, light and heat at the very least. Non-electric systems are a must when something like this happens. About the only thing you need electrical power for is refrigeration over long periods and winter weather could help with that if you have a window box or cooler to take advantage of the outside refrigeration capability. In warmer climates the possession of an absorption or propane refrigerator will allow you to keep items frozen or cool for several weeks with only a few 20lb.cannisters of propane.

Propane will also take care of heating, cooking and lighting needs if you want to go that route. Otherwise, wood heat and basic lighting such as kerosene lamps, candles or small battery powered lamps can take care of your other environmental needs. The storage of basic foods, especially canned goods, and sufficient water will also insure your family has the things they need to ride out the situation. In the event you can buy or trade in the aftermath of the disaster it is always good to have some cash on hand and maybe some gold or silver for long term problems.

These basic things are the basis of being immune from the types of problems brought about by a loss of electrical technologies that bring society to a halt. The ability to communicate with others in the absence of public communication systems and the ability to maintain security in the absence of law enforcement are also things that need to be looked at for serious, long term situations. The ability to provide for sanitation during disasters is also something few prepare for so that needs to be addressed as well. A simple outhouse is worth its weight in gold when sanitation systems cease to function properly.

These items are practically immune from any cyber attack and will allow you to maintain minimum living standards for long periods of time in the event it becomes necessary. One does not have to go to extremes to become cyber proof. The security provided by normal camping supplies and preparations will go a long way to keeping you safe and healthy when technology fails. If everyone was a prepper, disasters would be non-events for most people and cyber threats would be little more than minor inconveniences.

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Electronic Armageddon: The Carrington Event Then and Now

By: Tom Chatham – Author of The Crux Event

In 1859, an event unlike anything experienced before by modern man, occurred. A massive Coronal Mass Ejection occurred on the sun sending vast quantities of solar particles on a collision course with Earth. The result of this collision caused severe disruptions with the only major electrical equipment then in existence, the telegraph system. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in the Earths magnetic field that were literally off the scale.

Auroras were seen as far south as the Caribbean, gold miners in the Rocky Mountains were awakened by a light so bright they thought it was morning and those in the northeast could read news papers by the light.

Telegraph systems throughout Europe and North America failed and in some cases shocked telegraph operators. Telegraph lines threw sparks, paper in some telegraph offices caught fire and some lines continued to send messages even after the battery power had been removed from the line. The electrical effects were severe but the lack of electrical devices in use at this time allowed society to continue as normal and this disturbance was viewed as nothing more than a curiosity.

Scientists believe events of this size can occur every 500 years and events of a lesser but still destructive magnitude can happen several times per century. Scientists are getting better at predicting space weather but mother nature often times ignores our best forecasting and throws us a curve.

What would happen if a storm of this magnitude were to strike the Earth today? The biggest worry we have is the power grid. Satellites would be affected preventing most communications and financial transactions but if the grid goes down due to transformer blowouts, it could be a long time before we get it back up. The larger transformers 500+ KV in size cost millions of dollars and take 1 to 3 years to get even in normal times. Very few of these are kept in supply and the loss of dozens or hundreds at one time could be a disaster as only a small number are made every year and none are currently made in the U.S.

If many of these large transformers went down, it would take down our high tech society with it. Many of our cars and computers and appliances would probably still work, but how would we run them without power? How would we pump water to cities and pump fuel so trucks and trains could deliver food and medicine? How would our medical system operate without the high tech gadgets we depend on to keep people alive and diagnose them? How would we communicate and conduct financial business without our computers? Yes, we have backup generators but how long will they last before they run out of fuel that we can no longer process, pump and deliver?

This is the nightmare scenario we need to address before it happens. Currently we can detect CMEs about 20 hours before they reach Earth. The current plan is to notify power companies of the danger so they can shut down parts of the grid and protect the transformers before they get burnt out. It’s a plan but I feel the need to ask, is this really the best plan we can come up with? What happens if mother nature throws us a curve and we don’t have time to power down the transformers? A report from the EMP commission stated that it would cost about $60 to $100 million to protect the 300 largest transformers that power the grid and an additional $400 to $600 million to protect an additional 3,000 transformers but our leaders don’t think that would be the best use for our money. A NASA report indicates that within 90 seconds of a Carrington Event reaching Earth, the 300 largest transformers in the U.S. would go down and recovery would take 4 to 10 years and some estimates place the death toll in the tens of millions of people.

If the grid goes down civilized society as it is will disintegrate rapidly due to the lax moral standards we now have as a society. The pictures of Japanese citizens patiently waiting in line to get supplies after the 2011 tsunami is a stark difference from what you could expect in the U.S. As with many potential problems, if the government would only discuss it in public and offer the public some simple preparedness tips and discuss how we as a nation would repair the damage, the public knowledge would help mitigate the damage and aid in recovery operations. Unfortunately, that’s not how we do things in the 21st century.

So how do we know how bad it was in 1859 if we didn’t have electronic devices back then to measure it?

To be maximally geoeffective , ie: to drive a magnetic storm, a CME must
(1) be launched from near the center of the sun onto a trajectory that will cause it to impact Earths magnetic field,
(2) be fast (1000 km/sec + ) and massive, thus producing large kenetic energy and
(3) have a strong magnetic field where orientation is opposite that of Earth.

Solar Energetic Particle events dominated by shock-accelerated particles traveling near the speed of light are channeled along geomagnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere above the poles where they can initiate ozone depleting chemistry in the middle atmosphere. Nitrates produced by SEP bombardment settle out of the atmosphere within weeks and are preserved in polar ice, allowing the magnitude of the SEP to be estimated many years later. This is how we can estimate the magnitude of the Carrington Event and apply it to modern technology.

Some scientists fear that the solar maximum that will peak in 2013 will spawn another CME similar to the Carrington Event causing catastrophic results on Earth. The recent uptick in solar storms may give some credence to our newfound concerns. The problem with a solar event as opposed to a manmade event is the possibility that we could be hit multiple times over the course of months before it diminishes. This could make recovery efforts many times more difficult. It is possible for individuals to prepare for an event like this to limit the hardships but this is something that must be done well in advance. The problem is that the vast majority will not prepare and they will cause this disaster to become a catastrophe if it happens. Those that are not prepared to live through a situation like this face a life threatening situation. Those that are prepared, face the danger posed by the unprepared.

The preparations that you make for this situation are similar to many other disasters and will require similar items and planning. For someone just starting out, a review of two previous articles, Your Plan is The Primary Prep on 21 May and Prepping for the Financially Challenged on 6 March, will give you some things to consider. One thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that an event of this magnitude will necessitate a plan that spans multiple years in order to get through it. As I always stress, knowledge is the most important thing to have in a disaster and everyone needs to develop a plan that will work best for them. If the grid goes down besides not being able to travel or communicate, banking records could be frozen or destroyed taking your electronic money along with it. In this situation, the only money you may have access to is what you have on hand in cash and even then you may be limited as to what you will be able to buy. The only safe position is to already have supplies on hand. For this type of disaster, there is no such thing as being prepared too early or having too many supplies.

One final item that you need to plan for is the potential for a nuclear incident following a grid down event. The loss of power to maintain coolant can result in a meltdown of reactor fuel and the more serious problem of spent fuel coolant ponds going dry igniting radioactive fires. In this situation you have two choices, evacuate or shelter in place. Evacuation would be difficult at best and sheltering in place would present its own problems. An uncontrolled radioactive fire can spew radiation for decades so each person would need to evaluate the hazard to their location and plan accordingly. A modern day Carrington Event would be nothing short of Armageddon for the people of this planet.