Though he doesn’t think it was a cyber-attack, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson admits U.S. cybersecurity is in need of vast improvements.
Experts at the home of the first computer agree.
Technical glitches caused The Wall Street Journal’s website to shut down, trading to stop at the New York Stock Exchange, and United Airlines to ground flights. The outages came one after the other, all on the same day.
Professor Doug Jacobson teaches electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State University, where he is also the Director of the Information Assurance Center. When asked about how technical glitches could cause the kind of disruption they had on Wednesday, Jacobson told Channel 13 News, “The systems are very complex, and there`s not one computer, there`s literally hundreds and hundreds of computers that all have to work together to make something like the New York Stock Exchange work, to make something like United Airlines’ flight management system work, to even make a simple website work.”
Jacobson says the outages show just how vulnerable we all are, as we rely more and more on computer systems. “Whether it be through some technical glitch or a malicious actor, we`re very vulnerable to having ATMs collapse,” Jacobson said. “You know the power grid is controlled by cyber, more and more you know google is going to make all the cars controlled by the computer, I mean we`re moving more and more towards a computer operated society.”
And in these complex computer systems we depend on, when one thing goes wrong, it can shut everything down. “Computers aren`t perfect and because unfortunately, they`re built by imperfect people and they are so complex that no one person can understand it all, and so you`ve got large teams building large systems and accidents happen,” Jacobson said.
And while there are some backup systems that can be put in place, Professor Jacobson says you simply can’t plan for every problem that might happen. “We`re in a weird situation because even our modes of communications are computer controlled, so you know even the landlines, everything`s computer controlled so we`re in a mode where we don`t even know how to, we can`t even talk to each other without the computers,” Jacobson said.