The Vulnerability of Technology

"The attacks, which came a month after the White House website was targeted in a similar online assault, left millions unable to carry out daily routines that have assumed an increasingly central part of their lives." -- Reuters

This week, a Distributed Denial-of-Service Attack (DDoS) caused a major Twitter outage, disrupting service for users of the extremely popular micro-blogging site. Gawker, Facebook, LiveJournal, and other Web sites were also attacked, but Twitter was most severely hit. provided a good summary of how it happened, and the ease with which such cyber-terror can take place.

The Future of Journalism blog offered one possible solution to keep it from happening again.

I commented: "Makes you think: what would happen when ALL of technology comes crashing down around us?"

Dan Bloom replied in agreement: "When the entire computer electric grid goes down, maybe forever, and all email files are lost and all computers are shut off and all data online is LOST forever, then what?...This all cannot last forever...What will happen then to all the information and files stored on computers worldwide? We do need a fail-safe system in place before then. But how?"

The U.S. Government is seriously researching and investing in cyber warfare to protect against attacks and to possibly use such tactics to its advantage in future conflicts. Such destructive online assaults could prove globally devastating. It's not too farfetched to imagine a potential World War fought online. Or, closer to plausability, antagonistic groups using such tactics to attack their enemies or entire nations, or governments abusing their power and using such methods to suppress their own people.

My paranoid mind has long feared the vulnerability of our modern technology. We have become so dependent on digital, electronic media, that in the the event of a global catastrophe, much of our society's information could be compromised, or worse, completely lost. This would have ramifications for future history and the survival of our knowledge base and our culture.

We have relied on methods of ancient communication to decipher humanity's past (wall paintings and stone carvings, papyrus writing, books). Can digitized information also stand the test of time? We've long preached about the superiority of digital info versus analog, but how much safer is new media versus old?

I'm a big proponent of digitization and a firm believer that social media and the Internet have revolutionized and democratized the way the world is communicating, gathering/spreading news, and recording historic events. Chat rooms, message bulletin boards, newsgroups, instant messages, blogs, text messages, social networks, and other innovations have permitted us to archive more "conversations" and distribute more forms of personal expression than ever before.

But my own experiences have shown how vulnerable such tools are to being lost forever. In the past, I contributed content heavily to a number of online forums, such as Francis Ford Coppola's Screenwriting Community on American Zoetrope, America Online's Movie Boards, message boards like The Robside and The Forgotten Place Reborn -- all of which are now gone, the content (to my despair) likely deleted and/or lost, never to be recovered. (Or, it does still exist, I hold no hope that I will ever see any of it again.)

Even with efforts to back up files, how much information would be permanently lost or corrupted in a cataclysmic attack? As technology continues to evolve, how difficult will it be for future generations to decipher current digital assets? If modern tools are lost, will future historians still be able to extract our contemporary data or will it all be lost?

Worth thinking about and worth working to find a way to secure our collective information base.


Anonymous said…
I would be most worried about losing all the pictures that exist only on our hard drives. Think of all those memories