In general, the less genuine threat a security risk poses, the more we are willing to do about it.
Everyone’s trying to combat or do away with super malware like Stuxnet and Flame but the biggest actual threat to your network comes from people using weak passwords and/or failing to change them regularly.
This is one result of a culture of fear so pervasive in the United States that we take it for granted. Our default reaction to any threat, no matter how unlikely it is to happen, is to protect ourselves from it at any cost.
Consider the following list of inanimate objects that got a number of children in serious trouble when they used them as pretend guns:
- Pastry (7-year-old kid suspended)
- Paper (5th grader, scolded in front of class)
- Lego (5-year-old, threatened with suspension)
- Fingers (8 year-old, suspended)
- Hello Kitty Bubble Gun (5-year-old, suspended for making “terroristic threat”)
It’s easy (and reasonable) to laugh at these incidents and forget they are symptoms of a culture of fear that is doing much more damage than actual threats.
In an average year, the odds of anyone–student, staff or random passerby–being killed at a U.S. public school are about two million to one, according to the Department of Education. After the horror at Sandy Hook the odds increased to one million to one.
Since those murders, a lot of schools have reasonably installed automatic locks on the outsides of doors and cameras to monitor them. In some areas people want to install bullet-proof glass. One school district in Massachusetts banned outdoor recess, and makers of bulletproof backpacks are making huge profits.
If people really want to improve the safety and well-being of students they should provide more free meals and pay for additional school nurses. Then there's South Dakota's approach: Pass a law allowing school districts to arm teachers and other school staff.
Consider this piece of apocalyptica recently released by the Department of Defense:
"The impact of a destructive cyber attack on the civilian population would be even greater with no electricity, money, communications, TV, radio, or fuel (electrically pumped). In a short time, food and medicine distribution systems would be ineffective; transportation would fail or become so chaotic as to be useless. Law enforcement, medical staff, and emergency personnel capabilities could be expected to be barely functional in the short term and dysfunctional over sustained periods. If the attack’s effects were reversible, damage could be limited to an impact equivalent to a power outage lasting a few days. If an attack’s effects cause physical damage to control systems, pumps, engines, generators, controllers, etc., the unavailability of parts and manufacturing capacity could mean months to years are required to rebuild and reestablish basic infrastructure operation."
This is a scenario every bit as extreme and absurd as the United Nations taking over the U.S. government. The Defense Department posits a cyberattack with the destructive impact of an electromagnetic pulse created by a giant nuclear attack. This is probably technically feasible, but so is the Cubs winning the World Series.
The most heretical opinion in America today is, "There’s really not that much to be afraid of." Sadly, it is also the most likely to be true.
P.S. I wish the idea of the U.N. taking over the United States was just an absurd example of paranoia, but it’s actually another example of fear uber alles. The following is from the website of Ted Cruz, the new junior senator from Texas, who is currently considered a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination:
"The Republican National Committee recently took a stand in voting unanimously to oppose Agenda 21, a dangerous United Nations plan that takes aim at the American economy–and American freedom–in the name of environmental reform."
Anyone who thinks this is a good idea has clearly never seen the UN in action. Its members would be hard pressed to put together the takeover of an ice cream shop.