Archive for Saturday, February 16, 2013

Simons’ Saturday Column: Technology moves from comics to potential threat

February 16, 2013


Years ago, a comic book told about the exploits of super detective Dick Tracy, who had access to all kinds of special devices that helped keep him ahead of, and on top of, dangerous, evil-hearted individuals. He had a two-way wrist radio and later a two-way wrist television.

On a radio show titled “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy,” listeners could learn about pieces of equipment that helped Armstrong in his various challenging adventures.

Other comic book artists and writers had spaceships traveling to other parts of the universe, and humans flying solo with the help of various types of jet devices. Superman could see through buildings, hear far-off conversations and had incredible strength.

The point of this is that, many years ago, comic book writers and artists were telling stories of exploits carried out with amazing, as-yet-never-seen equipment and know-how almost beyond a person’s imagination. And, yet, a relative few years later, here today, all of these devices and more are accepted by most individuals and not considered as anything too surprising or exceptional.

Years ago, Kansas University hosted an international group of “futurists,” a collection of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and visionaries. KU faculty members Bill Conboy and Jim Gunn were the hosts, and it was a smashing success. (A similar conference should be brought back to the campus.)

Events of just the past several years offer evidence there is a growing need for individuals with the intelligence and vision to think about the future and the challenges that lie ahead — both for individuals and for this country.

This writer often has said complacency is one, if not the most, dangerous affliction for individuals, businesses, universities, countries, athletics and most every facet of our lives. Very few things or conditions are guaranteed.

Several years ago, well-known author Tom Clancy started writing a novel titled “Threat Vector.” This current best seller tells a story of a long, well-planned project by Chinese leaders to build an extremely powerful cybersystem able to cripple and render useless most every important operation in the United States.

This system allowed Chinese leaders and military strategists to hack into the highest levels of the American government, cause nuclear systems to shut down or overheat, intercept U.S. drone aircraft and misdirect them to target American military positions and, in a way, bring America to its knees.

Clancy must have had this idea for a book several years ago, but, this week, President Obama used his State of the Union address to warn the country about the growing threat of increased cyberattacks. There have been an increasing number of stories in recent weeks about American companies and industries being hacked by the Chinese. Have our top military offices been compromised?

Is this situation far more dangerous than anyone in top government, military or utility companies has acknowledged? Is the current level of danger similar to what Clancy describes in his book?

Some might say “no way” but that’s probably what a good share of the public thought about the exploits and devices used by comic book characters 40, 50 or more years ago.

What if Clancy’s vision is fairly accurate? Is there reason to believe and have confidence that our top military and government officials are on top of the situation with systems to counter or, better yet, to put hackers out of business? Is the U.S. engaged in developing cyberhacking to an even higher level to use against other nations or maybe, more worrying, to use to keep tabs on Americans here at home?

It would be a serious mistake to sell short the Chinese threat or, for that matter, the ability and determination of leaders or schemers in other countries to use cyber or space technology to make America — for years the world’s most powerful and respected country — into a damaged shell of itself as an international leader.

Cyberthreats are real. Hacking is not merely a threat; it is a clear and present danger as well as a growing concern as it relates to the government invading the privacy of U.S. citizens.

Clancy’s book, the president’s inclusion of cybersecurity in his State of the Union address and the increasing realization by American business that they have been, or are being, hacked all point to the seriousness of this threat.

This is not a comic book fantasy.


btsflk 5 years, 4 months ago

Simultaneous attacks on our power grids, communications systems, and banks, not to mention military systems would render us helpless. I began thinking about this several years ago upon realization that everything is being operated electronically. It's all a house of cards. Sci-Fi books of thirty or forty years ago, written before the dominance of electronics, predict similar scenarios. There is no reliable way to protect cybersystems.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

These leveraged buyout groups over the past 33 years have down irreparable harm to the USA and all those who supported and continue to support this job killing nonsense are equally to blame. This by and large the 1% nonsense.

USA has been selling all sorts of technology abroad for the easy quick big bucks. Dumb.

Funding our own demise is what some might call stupid.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

Good luck getting the ideologically ignorant GOP to join in this reality-based and fact-based conversation.

I wonder if Mr. Simons feels the same way about human-made climate change? There have been many comics and movies made about this threat as well, which is every bit as real and evidence-based as the cyber threats that have Mr. Simons sitting up at night with dyspepsia.

I guess the money men of the GOP see profit in cyber threat and not climate change, and thus the GOP ideology supports the former reality and not the latter reality.

One a convenient truth, and the other an inconvenient.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

"Years ago, Kansas University hosted an international group of “futurists,” a collection of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and visionaries. KU faculty members Bill Conboy and Jim Gunn were the hosts, and it was a smashing success. (A similar conference should be brought back to the campus.)"

Most "futurist" thinking these days includes responses and adaptations to human-created climate change, such as the fate of our coastal and low-lying cities, as well as agriculture in a new climate.

Would you like to hear about these futurisms, Mr. Simons?

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