This article was written by Richard Gardner, founder and CEO of Modulus Global.
Earlier this month, the infrastructure of the United States was under attack.
No, it wasn’t our roads, bridges, or tunnels. It wasn’t our electric grid. Instead, it was our internet, making websites like Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Etsy and The New York Times, unavailable.
This attack, which started on the East Coast before expanding across the country, came from an unidentified source, and spread through devices connected to the internet which were infected with malware, allowing hackers to use them to target traffic in exceptionally high volumes, leading to the crashing of websites. Law enforcement was unable to identify whether this was a rogue criminal attack or an attack backed by a government body, such as Russia or China.
This attack comes from the emerging Internet of Things, which has long been identified as a potential entryway for hackers. But, the reality is that this attack, using the IoT, is only the beginning. Some writers remarked that this attack was essentially an annoyance. After all, shutting down social media was something with which we could all live. They argued that much bigger things were in the future. And, that’s certainly true. There are bigger risks. However, this attack is not solely an annoyance.
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In the digital age in which we live, sites like Twitter derive significant revenue from marketing dollars. And, companies depend on this marketing to spur their own growth. Shutting down a site like Twitter or Facebook for a week, innocuous as it may seem, actually may create a great deal of trickle-down economic pain.
A week without Facebook doesn’t just mean that you are unable to post your cute cat photos. It means that nearly 2% of yearly revenue for Facebook disappears. It means a week of silence in the midst of a marketing campaign for consumer product companies, like Tide or Corona. Imagine a full month without Facebook. That 2% of revenue loss is closer to 8%. It means marketing campaigns are ruined. An outage of Facebook, at this point in history, would produce economic pain akin to losing television in the 1960s. And that’s ‘just’ social media.
A widespread outage would be bad for the financial markets. Trading platforms would go down. Uncovered positions could cause losses, and brokers may be unreachable. These scenarios start to get real when you think about the internet itself. An aggressive nation-state need not take down the internet itself. Without electricity, there is no internet. This doubles the damage of a potential large-scale electrical grid failure.
Like in the recent attack, to cause major pain, a hacker need only go after one of the many companies, like Dyn, which host the Domain Name System.
The DNS takes user-friendly domain names and transfers the user to the correct location based on numerical languages, which allow computers to interact with each other. You can think of the DNS as the roads you take to get from your home to work each day. If the roads, or in this case, the computer infrastructure, is down, you will never get to your intended destination. That’s what happened in the latest outage. And that’s why we must care deeply about hackers that keep us from seeing grandma’s newest updates on Fluffy the Cat.