I am a science fiction fan. In particular, I am a fan of movies featuring Those Lonesome Nerds who are capable of controlling this planet’s critical infrastructure – from their gloomy basements.
But is it science fiction? In the year Die Hard 4.0 has been released a classified video has been recorded – showing an electrical generator dying from a cyber attack.
Fortunately, “Aurora” was just a test attack against a replica of a power plant:
Now some of you know that the Subversive El(k)ement calls herself a Dilettante Science Blogger on Twitter.
But here is an epic story to be unearthed, and it would take a novelist to do that. I can imagine the long-winded narrative unfolding – of people who cannot use their showers or toilets any more after the blackout. Of sinister hackers sending their evil commands into the command centers of the intricate blood circulation of our society we call The Power Grid. Of course they use smart meters to start their attack.
Unfortunately my feeble attempts of tipping my toes into novel writing have been crashed before I even got started: This novel does exist already – in German. I will inform you if is has been translated – either to a novel or directly into a Hollywood movie script.
As I am probably not capable of writing a serious thriller anyway I would rather go for dark satire.
Douglas Adams did cover so many technologies in The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy – existing and imagined ones – but he did not elaborate much on intergalactic power transmission. So here is room for satire.
What if our Most Critical Infrastructure would not be attacked by sinister hacker nerds but by our smart systems’
smartness dumbness? (Or their operators’.)
(To all you silent readers and idea grabbers out there: Don’t underestimate the cyber technology I had built into that mostly harmless wordpress.com blog: I know all of you who are reading this and if you are going to exploit this idea on behalf of me I will time-travel back and forth and ruin your online reputation.)
That being said I start crafting the plot:
As Adams probably drew his inspiration from his encounters with corporations and bureaucracy when describing the Vogons and InfiniDim enterprises I will extrapolate my cyber security nightmare from an anecdote:
Consider a programmer (a geek. Sorry for the redundant information!) trying to test his code. (Sorry for the gender stereotype. As a geekess I am allowed to do this. It could be female geek also!)
The geek’s code should send messages to other computers in a Windows domain. “Domain” is a technical term, not some geeky reference to Dominion or the like. He is using net send. Generation Y-ers and other tablet and smartphone freak: This is like social media status message junk lacking images.
But our geek protagonist makes a small mistake: He does not send the test command to his test computer only – but to “EUROPE”. This does nearly refer to the whole continent, actually it addresses all computers in all European subsidiaries of a true Virtual Cyber Empire.
Fortunately modern IT networks are built on nearly AI powered devices called switches which make the cyber attack petering out at the borders of That Large City.
How could we turn this into a story about an attack on the power grid, adding your typical ignorant non-tech sensationalist writer’s cliched ideas:
- A humanoid life-form (or flawed android that tests his emotions chip) is tinkering with sort of a Hello World! command – sent to The Whole World literally.
- The attack that is just a glitch, an unfortunate concatenation of events, that is been launched in an unrelated part of the cyber space. E.g. by a command displayed on a hacker’s screen in a Youtube video. Or it was launched from the gas grid.
- The Command of Death spreads pandemically over the continent, replicating itself more efficiently than cute cat videos on social networks.
I contacted my agent immediately.
Shattering my enthusiasm she told me:
This is not science-fiction – this is simply boring. Something like that happened recently in a small country in the middle of Europe.
According to this country’s news a major power blackout had barely been avoided in May 2013. Engineers needed to control the delicate balance of power supply and demand manually as the power grid’s control system has been flooded with gibberish – data that could not be interpreted.
The alleged originator of these commands was a gas transmission system operator in the neighboring country. This company tested a new control system and tried to poll all of its meters for a status update. Somehow the command found its way from the gas grid to the European power grid and has been replicated.
Update – Bonus material – making of: For the first time I felt the need to tell this story twice – in German and in English. This is not a translation, rather different versions in parallel universes. German-speaking readers – this is the German instance of the post.