Has the Internet of Things – today’s vast, interconnected computing ecosystem – reached a point where it is so complex, so layered, where it has so many architects and so many national interests that it has become a threat to himself ?
The power grid, financial system or air traffic control apparatus will they explode not because of the hand of a malicious hacker, but because the system – which is now a system of systems – has become the most subtle threat it faces?
Worse, as the speed of telephony increases with 5G, will the implosion of the system accelerate with devastating consequences?
Will this technological meltdown be triggered from within by a long-forgotten piece of code, a failing sensor, or substandard products at vital points carrying this system?
This type of complexity-derived catastrophe is known as “emergent behavior”. Remember this concept. You are likely to hear a lot about it in the future.
Emergent behavior is what happens when several objects or substances come together and trigger a reaction that cannot be predicted, nor the predetermined trigger.
Robert Gardner, founder and director of New World Technology Partners and consultant to the National Security Agency, tells me that the computing ecosystem is highly subject to emergent behavior in the complex and adaptive system of systems that is today’s cyberworld. It’s a world built over time, with new layers of complexity added willy-nilly, as computing, and what it’s been asked to do, has grown into a huge, impregnable structure. , beyond the reach of its current architects and guardians, including cybersecurity enthusiasts.
Gardner, in my opinion, is worth listening to because he was, if you will, in the beginning. At the very least, he was present and worked on the evolution of computing, beginning in the 1970s when he helped build the first supercomputers and served as a consultant for several national labs, including Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos. He also played a key role in the development of today’s ultra-sophisticated financial computing infrastructure, known as “fintech”..
Gardner says emergent behaviors in complex systems “They cannot be predicted by looking at the individual components of a system, because they are produced by the system as a whole, facilitating a perfect storm that conspires to produce a disaster.”
Complexity is the new adversary, he says, of these huge virtual systems of systems.
Gardner adds, “The complexity adversary needs no outside help; it can be invoked by minor failures in the user, environment, or equipment, or by temporal instabilities in the ordinary operation of a system.”
“Current threat detection software does not scan for or detect these system conditions, which makes it highly vulnerable.”
Gardner cites two examples where the system failed on its own. The first example is the fall of a tree branch on a power line in Ohio, which triggered blackouts in Michigan, New York and Canada. The system became the problem: it went haywire and 50 million people were left without electricity.
The second example is how a phenomenon called “counterparty risk” accelerated the fall of Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street juggernaut. It was then that a simple fault integrated into the system triggered the implosion of the whole structure.
No malicious actors
Gardner asserts that “there were no nefarious actors to defend against; the complex and heterogeneous nature of the systems themselves gave rise to emergent behaviors.”
In the future, cyber hygiene best practices will not prevent disasters. Interlocking systems are their own enemy. Utilities take note.
And the danger could get worse, according to Gardner.
The bad guy is 5G : the ultra-fast telephony and data system being rolled out across the country. It will be presented in what are called “chunks”, but for this you can read the steps.
- The first phase is the one that’s being built right now: it’s faster than current 4G, which is what phones and data use right now. It includes mobile broadband.
- The second phase, called “machine-to-machine”, is even faster.
- The third tranche will move massive amounts of data at staggering speeds which, if disruptive and produced in an unidentifiable location, pose a threat to a whole swathe of human activity.
The self-destructing machines will be unstoppable when they have the third phase of 5G to accelerate bad information throughout their system and connected systems. Technological Armageddon.
On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.
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Public services on alert: the entire Internet of Things is in danger in itself
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