Hackers are a positive force helping to locate technical problems before they occur, McAfee said
Last week’s nearly simultaneous disruptions of the New York Stock Exchange, the website of the Wall Street Journal and United Airlines emphasise the growing instability of the technical systems underpinning key infrastructure, according to security expert John McAfee.
He said the incidents underscore the need for more technically aware leaders, and argued that hackers are a helpful influence in combating instability.
McAfee said under normal circumstances it would be next to impossible for the failures to occur at the same time.
“If these events were truly random and independent, then the frequency of all three of these events happening on the same day is once in a billion days (or if you prefer to count in years, almost 2.8 million years),” he said in an opinion article.
The likelihood of the events occurring coincidentally within minutes of each other was so small that “it is more likely that your car, using quantum probability effects, would leak out of your garage and show up instantly in my driveway an ocean away”, he wrote.
The companies affected cited technical issues for the failures, but McAfee pointed out that some could nevertheless be tempted to attribute the incidents to a cyber-attack.
He pointed to a Twitter message posted by a member of the Anonymous hacking network several hours before the NYSE failure, which stated, “Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street…. we can only hope.”
Anonymous has not claimed involvement in the NYSE failure, and later tweets indicated that the timing of the post was yet another coincidence. “LoL everyone got whipped into a frenzy about the NYSE tweet…hmmm…wonder how stocks will do tomorrow?” read a post dated after the resolution of the NYSE issue.
Hackers here to help
McAfee argued that instead of being blamed, hackers should be seen as helping to combat cyber-weaknesses.
White-hat hackers have a “positive influence on society” through their efforts in “testing and locating holes in our cybersecurity structures”, McAfee wrote.
McAfee argued that leaders who don’t understand technology are more dangerous than hackers.
“We are in a rapidly expanding crisis and we cannot afford to be buried by well-meaning but dangerously unknowledgeable decision makers,” he wrote. “We can no longer afford to be hobbled and endangered by a technically incompetent leadership.”
The NYSE said last week’s shutdown was caused by some systems being misconfigured in a way that made them incompatible with a new software release. Previous shutdowns of the exchange and its predecessor have been caused by major events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the 11 September attacks and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.
United Airlines said it grounded flights because of a router problem that “degraded network connectivity for various applications”, while WSJ.com was affected by server problems.
US homeland security chief Jeh Johnson said the events were not caused by “nefarious activity”.
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