Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Die Hard - By Remote Control

While we wait for the latest Bruce Willis Die Hard movie, out on 14th February in case you're wondering, I've revisited the previous John McClane outing.

Die Hard 4.0 was a welcome extension of the John McClane saga - senseless action and mindless violence are just two of the parameters I look for in a film.  Actually, pretty much the only two parameters I look for.

If you watched the movie you may recall that it revolved about a cyber attack on western civilisation.  Obviously the cyber attack was a cover for something more mundane - someone wanting to control the banks or some such - with all the cars crashing, helicopters smashing into the ground, bullets flying, bombs exploding I guess I may have missed the critical part of the story.

But there was an important part of the story that drove the second half, and that was the vulnerability of the utility systems - you know: power, nuclear, water, gas.  In the film it turned out that these all were a little more difficult to control than all the other major cyber targets such as the FBI, CIA and other government databases.  It wasn't that they were more secure on-line but that they were less likely to be accessible via the internet so the bad guys had to bring the level of disruption to society so that they could access the few points that did have access to these utility networks.  At least I think that was the rationale - it seemed to make sense in the cinema.

Apparently all of that was a bit too good to be true.  A couple of security consultants, Bob Radvanovsky and Jacob Brodsky, have searched the internet for links to machines running Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software.  SCADA is used to control machines in manufacturing and is especially popular in the utility sector.  They pumped a few hundred SCADA keywords into a search engine and found around half a million potential targets ranging from water treatment plant and traffic controls all the way to power plants were looking accessible. It seems that the engineers who manage these plants like to have access from home in the event of something going wrong.  I guess it's so they can pause the Tivo or Sky+ box, mend the plant and then get back to watching their favourite Bruce Willis movie.

The consultants didn't probe the security of the individual plants, but instead worked with the US Department of Homeland Security to whittle the list down to a more manageable 7000 plus locations.  Homeland Security are contacting these companies to advise them that their plants may be at risk.  Hopefully they sent an email as perhaps a letter might be too slow now that every terrorist organisation in the world is aware of what they need to do to identify industrial targets.  Or maybe they'll just contact John McClane.  He's in Moscow wrapping up Die Hard 5 right now, but I'm sure he'll zip back if called, unless he has to sort out Apple first. (Read about eBooks - Buy or Rent here to understand that remark)

So it seems that a far-fetched storyline is actually closer to the truth than perhaps it was given credit for.  I do hope the national utility infrastructures stay running until the 14th February as I've a film to see and that needs the electricity grid to be running.  Yippee Ki Yay.


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