A Stark Warning-Two Suggestions

The commuter newspaper Metro (www.metero.us) reported on August 28, 2013, words offered by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano the day before when honoring first responders to the Marathon bombing at a ceremony here in Boston. After her words of praise, she reportedly stated that our nation will face a “major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy and the everyday functioning of our society.”

I was stunned. Have you ever heard such a warning before? What does this mean? What does Secretary Napolitano expect us to do in response to this stark warning?

Without a transcript I can’t place the statement in context. What does strike me is when someone in this high government position, with unlimited access to government’s best intelligence says, that such an event will happen, and it will negatively impact our entire country, there should be something more said. There is no hint or suggestion as what we can do right now to mitigate the effects of such a cyber attack.

The US is under constant cyber attack. It is only common sense that we will never block every attack all the time. It can be inferred from Secretary Napolitano’s statement that we must now live with this possibility. Public utilities, transportation, military, and banking systems all rank high on the target lists of our enemies. The problem is we are not told what we can do as citizens to prepare ourselves for such an event. They report the threat but offer no advice?

With the above in mind, allow me to make an observation and perhaps stretch it into a suggestion or two. If the internet shut down right now, if your PDA no longer functioned, if email or texting were not available, and you basically lost the ability to communicate because you no longer have a landline in your home, what would you do? How much of your communications data (phone numbers-email addresses-log in and user data-passwords) are buried in your contact data on your computer or PDA. I would suggest it is a good idea to print out a copy of all contact data and keep the hard copy in a secure location at home. The cloud is no good if you can’t reach it. I have created these “cheat sheets” of information in the past and found them very useful when my electronic world goes dark.

Secondly, we know terrorist groups and certain political enemies target our economy both short and long term. The US economy must function for us to remain strong. What does this have to do with my next question?

How much cash do you have in your pocket right now? How much cash does your entire household have available at this very moment? What about friends or relatives? Why? Suppose there was a cyber attack on our national banking system. Such an attack could put the banking system in a lockdown mode while banks perform a damage assessment. That includes shutting down ATMs. It could also mean a loss of bank back up records further delaying a restart.

On the way to work you stop at your favorite ATM. It is shut down. You go to the bank but they won’t cash your check. Account records are not available to show your balance. You ask for an advance on your credit card. Same problem. You start to panic but decide a coffee will help. You try to pay for your coffee at Starbucks with your cell phone App that also isn’t working. You take out your credit card and the barista smiles apologetically and tells you the only thing working right now is cash. Now, you have no coffee for the ride to work nor do you have cash to put gas in the car.

Is this a one day inconvenience? What if it goes on a few days? What will this do to our confidence in the US economy? How will the stock market react? How long can you survive without electronic financial transactions? Now, take out your available cash and count it. How long can you last?

My bold suggestion is one that I have practiced ever since my Boston bank failed to open one morning and I could not get access to my money. Keep some cash available to you in a secure location so you have something to rely upon until the credit system can be re-established.

A hard copy of your contact data and some cash stashed away may help you transition a post cyber attack period better than most. Perhaps before that time our Secretary of Homeland Security will have some suggestions to offer us.