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On the recommendation of a clever German friend, I recently read Marc Elsberg’s Black Out.
It’s a bestseller about the effects an outage of power has on a swath of European countries and the US. Without giving away the plot, it was a coordinated attack which could have been by industry insiders, terrorists, or a rogue state.
It’s a gripping storyline, so I will let you find out by yourself!
With the current suspicion of external actors such as North Korea, China, Russia and others closer to home, it puts an interesting spin on how without secure and constant electrical supply, our interconnected and largely segmented & privatised society, could literally grind to a halt in days or a few short weeks.
Increasingly, we rely on embedded software code to enable access to homes and buildings, regulate our environments and supply our amenities. Stuxnet showed us how vulnerable our software is, when in 2010, over 200,000 machines were affected. It had been five years in development, longer than the planning that goes on behind some revolutions!
You might remember the London & South East electricity outage in Aug 2019, crippled 300,000 customers and brought some rail services to a standstill. That showed how fragile our systems can be.
With the rise of IOT (Internet of things), which overall is a positive thing I believe, how can security be guaranteed? Programmers love black doors and Easter Eggs. While perhaps a bit of (harmless) fun, these all add vulnerabilities, often at firmware level. Apart from the ‘published methods & functions’ in our devices, how many lay dormant, waiting to be activated by activists, terrorists, a foreign power, or even our own governments? In the recent turn that Brexit has taken in the UK, some info has been leaked about the powers, being prepared, just in case of civil unrest.
Any programmer knows that one persons bug, can be another’s ‘feature’. I am sure some readers of this will have experienced this phenomenon in the past where an upgrade removed an old bug, that was being used productively. Its certainly happened to me.
How good will QC (Quality Control) be, as IOT makes even greater use of AI? Potentially daily, Gigabytes or more of data is going to be being processed from each of our homes. How will that be protected, whether running through home assistants/Smart Speakers etc, or protected in the very core of the new (Huawei or not) 5G networks?
The point is that we layer software on software to run our world and increasing farm it out to the cheapest bidder. Good QC is expensive, often 2-3 times more that writing the original code if done seriously well. You only have to see some of the bugs that I encounter, from a variety of #SocialHousing systems each month, to see that cutting corners on quality testing costs everyone more in the long run. That includes keeping those software suppliers help desks staffed up with (in some cases) hundreds of calls to chew through daily.
It might be the right time now to think hard and deep about our software vulnerabilities. Do read the book, Black Out by Marc Elsberg. If you work in or rely on embedded software, it might just be your wake up call 🤔
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David Bowie – Blackout.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk 07854-655009
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