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The Financial Express

Cyber attack and digital disaster

| Updated: October 19, 2017 02:24:58


Cyber attack and digital disaster

Every civilisation has its own distinctiveness. People of some civilisations were physically strong. Some were experts in building temples, beautiful houses and palaces and others earned acclaim in medical science and many other particular fields. Those civilisations were also limited in some particular geographical locations. But starting from the Middle Ages, being nourished throughout a couple of centuries, the world witnessed renaissance, industrial revolution and eventually IT-based, electro-mechanical and paperless civilisation.
Cyber attack has now become a highly sophisticated, cheaper and more effective weapon for many countries. Robot technology, bio-technology, artificial intelligence and many other technological attainments are changing the world very rapidly. People are not being able to keep pace with the fastest changing technology. The world is entering a fully digitised version. Almost all activities are being reduced to be paperless. And this has made this world much more vulnerable in all respects. Cyber crimes and rapid changes in IT could bring a disastrous setback for this sophisticated human civilisation. We are now always in a great tension over when our various crucial passwords are going to be hacked while bank account and credit/debit card will become empty. Servers of all social communication sites are being collapsed by hackers or malware halting fully even the global communication. All satellites will be disconnected and even the control of nuclear bombs may go to the hands of terrorists or will be under the control of robots with artificial intelligence and many other unprecedented occurrences. The recent large-scale Ransomware attack is indicative of what the scale of future cyber attacks might be.
Almost everything is based on information technology in this 21st century. Without information and database technology, this world would stand still. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and many other cloud-computing facility-providers are setting up hundreds of data centres investing billions of dollars where human history, culture, business, commerce, financial transactions and daily activities are being stored. Many multinational companies, governmental and non-governmental organisations are taking facilities where all information are being stored in servers of some cloud-computing service-providers without setting up any server or data centre of individual companies. Every day millions of bits of data are being uploaded to the servers of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other social and professional networks. All those data contain daily activities, past memories, ideas, achievements and various expressions of human beings.
The centralisation of data has both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, preventing digital Dark Age might be comparatively easy through centralisation, but on the other, huge disaster might be caused by a single cyber attack, terrorist attack or natural calamities. This may be compared to keeping all eggs in a single basket.
So how much secure are those data? Is there any strong disaster recovery plan? Of course, there has been a strong disaster recovery plan of each organisation. But simultaneously cyber crimes are also increasing day by day and hackers are also becoming very much desperate. Cyber attack could bring no less severe consequences than an explosion of atom bomb. Moreover, natural calamities like tsunami and earthquake are taking an unprecedented shape and bringing huge disasters. Natural disasters are floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes/cyclones, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, heat waves, and landslides. Man-made disasters include the more cosmic scenarios of catastrophic global warming, nuclear war, and bio-terrorism. In the realm of information technology, disasters may also be the result of a computer security hazard. Some of these are computer viruses, cyber attacks, denial-of-service attacks, hacking, and malware exploits. They are causing huge infrastructural disaster as we have seen in the Tsunami in Japan and the collapse of Twin Tower by terrorist attack. Much other acts of sabotage are also taking place.
Another type of digital Dark Age is the perception of a possible future situation where it will be difficult or impossible to read historical electronic documents and multimedia because they have been recorded in an obsolete and obscure file format. The name derives from the term Dark Ages in the sense that there would be a relative lack of written records as documents are transferred to digital formats and original copies lost.
One concern leading to the use of the term is that documents are stored on physical media which require special hardware in order to be read and that this hardware will not be available in a few decades from the time the document was created. For example, it is already the case that disk drives capable of reading 5 1?4 inch floppy disks are not readily available. The Digital Dark Age also applies to the problems which arise due to obsolete file formats. In such a case, it is the lack of the necessary software which causes problems when retrieving stored documents. This is especially problematic when proprietary formats are used, in which case it might be impossible to write appropriate software to read the file.
A famous real example is with NASA, whose early space records have suffered from a Dark Age issue more than once. For over a decade, magnetic tapes from the 1976 Viking Mars landing were unprocessed. When later analysed, the data was unreadable as it was in an unknown format and the original programmers had either died or left NASA. The images were eventually extracted following many months of going through the data and examining how the recording machines functioned.
Organisations cannot always avoid disasters, but with careful planning, the effects of a disaster can be minimised. In order to overcome any disaster or damage, an organisation must have a strong Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP). We know that DRP is a set of documented procedures to recover and protect a business IT infrastructure in the event of a disaster. It is a comprehensive statement of consistent actions to be taken before, during and after a disaster -- natural, environmental or man-made. Given organisations' increasing dependency on information technology to run their operations, a disaster recovery plan, sometimes erroneously called a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), is increasingly associated with the recovery of information technology data, assets, and facilities. The plan minimises the disruption of operations and ensures that some level of organisational stability and an orderly recovery after a disaster will prevail. 
Recently we are observing that hackers are being encouraged and trained in hacking activities. They are also being rewarded as brilliant software engineers. But unfortunately many hackers are not upholding their morality. They are taking part in many unethical and criminal hacking activities. But we should keep in mind that the greatest robber of the world may be the greatest in terms of his or her robbery, but can never deserve reward or appreciation. All hackers should apply their talent in defending all illegal hacking.
In today's global technological advancement, socio-economic changes, political changes, shifting of power and changes in international relations are absolutely unpredictable. None can predict what types of changes are going to take place in the near future. The most alarming would be artificial intelligence. Many scientists, especially Stephen Hawkins, always express their concern over advancement of artificial intelligence where machine or robot itself would take and implement many crucial decisions out of the knowledge of human beings. Then what might be the consequences is totally unimaginable.
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