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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Call it the 'National Infrastructure Criminal Hacker Protection Center'

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Saturday, 17 May 2003

NATIONAL INFRA­STRUC­TURE PRO­TEC­TION Center, Watch Unit. How may I help you?  
  Yes, is this the Department of Homeland Security?
Yes it is, sir. How may I help you?  
  This is where I call if, like, if an ATM machine gets hit by a cyber-strike. Right?
That's correct, sir. I can take your information. Can you describe the attack without speculating or exaggerating any of the details?  
  Well, I was-- uh-- "speculating or exaggerating"?
Our investigative team only wants the factual details, sir.  
  Ah! "Just the facts, ma'am." (Ha ha.) I get it. Okay.
Thank you. So, sir?  
  Oh. Okay. Uh, at roughly last night at 11pm Central Time, a lightning bolt struck about two blocks from my house. My business T1 went down and it didn't come back up. And I just learned that the ATM machines in my town went down as well, and cellular service is out. And I know for a fact those ATMs and the cell tower ride on the same physical network circuits as my T1.
Light-- You know this for a fact, sir, that your town's ATMs use the same circuits as your company?  
  Oh, sure. The cell tower, too. Our telephone coop gave me a private tour of their nerve center right after 9/11 when I asked them about physical line issues.
Sir, I need to make sure that I understand what you're saying. You're saying that the telephone company gave you a guided tour of their network operations center right after 9/11, just because you asked them to?  
  Yeah. Sure.
And they showed you the town's ATM layout, sir?  
  Uh-huh. They showed me the entire telecom layout for the banks in our town.
They did?!?  
  Well, yeah. I mean, how couldn't they? They gave me a tour of the whole building. I saw the fire department's priority phone line, and the mayor's priority phone line, and the town's master DSL hub, and the cell phone hub for the antennas on the water tower, and the wet-battery backup system, and all of the emergency alarm systems, and everything else. Yeah, I saw it all.
(sigh) Let's go back to the ATM outage, sir. What can you tell me?  
  Well, I mean-- like I said, my business T1 line went down last night and I just learned that the ATM machines and the cell tower went down, too.
How did you learn this fact, sir?  
  Well, Carl told me about it when I called to report our T1.
  Yeah. The switch supervisor.
The switch supervisor told you about the ATM and cellular outages in your town?  
  Well, I mean-- I had a problem, too. But he just mentioned the ATM & cell phone thing in passing. But I know it's vitally important to you guys, so here I am calling you about it.
You said-- you said lightning did this, though. Right?  
  Well-- well, I mean-- yeah, at around 11pm, lightning struck about two blocks away from my home. (Made a loud sound, too, I can tell you that.) And that's right when my business T1 went down. So I guess that I can only speculate that the ATMs and the cell tower went down right at the same time.
So the lightning took out everything, sir?  
  Well, sure-- but I mean, that doesn't change the fact that the ATMs and the cellular and my T1 are all down right now.
Sir-- we can't do anything about that.  
  What, you mean about the ATM machines?
I'm sorry, sir, but the NIPC doesn't get involved in lightning strikes.  
  But waitaminit! Our ATMs are down and my T1 is down and the cellular service is down. You guys protect critical banking & telecommunications infrastructures, don't you?
Yes, but that event happened because of an Act of God, sir. The NIPC is only investigating malicious cyber-attacks.  
  But wait wait wait! These are critical infrastructures that you guys are supposed to be protecting. That's why I called you. I mean, if somebody rolls a tractor in a cornfield somewhere, then how can they dial 911? Cellular service is down. This is-- I mean, this is important we're talking about here. Somebody could die becau--
--Sir! Sir, I know how you feel, but the NIPC is not the one to handle this. This is an issue for your telephone company to resolve.  
  But-- well, so, I mean-- so you guys are worried about ATMs and 911 outages, though, right? You are protecting the critical infrastructures, right?
Yes, if they go down because of a criminal activity.  
  What, you mean like when the terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center?
That's correct, sir. Or hackers.  
  But wait! "Down" is down when you're pinned under a tractor and you can't dial 911, man! This could be like a tornado or blizzard here, not just a plane crash or a hacker.
I know, sir, but the NIPC only protects critical infrastructures against acts of a criminal nature. We don't get involved when it's an Act of God. Is there anything else we can help you with today, sir?  
  (sigh) No. I guess not. This certainly was an enlightening phone call, you know.
I understand, sir, and I'm very sorry. Thank--  
  Shouldn't you guys be called, like, the National Infrastructure Criminal Hacker Protection Center? Seems to me that that'd be a more accu--
Sir, I really do need to answer the next call. I'm sorry that we can't help you. Thank you for calling the National Infrastructure Protection Center, Watch Unit.  
  Yeah. Okay. I understand. Bye.

[Editor's note: this transcript is a work of fiction, just like "The War of the Worlds" and "Special Bulletin."]