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Ending Cyber-Hubris

Hurricane Katrina will lead the endless finger pointing about what should have been done to strengthen the levees before the storm. However, as a former senior FEMA official under the Clinton Administration explained, “There’s only two kinds of levees. Ones that have failed and those that will fail.” The same is true for cyber-levees.

The internet today is in the same position as New Orleans was before the hurricane, a heavily fortified resource of incalculable economic and cultural value whose protections will one day inevitably fail.

The above observation does not mean that there should be any slackening of efforts by all stakeholders to continue strengthening cybersecurity protections. Governments, industry, academia, and individual computer users will always need to take vigorous measures to protect the internet. However, everyone should realize that there are limits and fallibilities to even the mightiest efforts.

Not only are there limits to how far we can go in securing the internet, there should be limits. After all, the most secure computer is one that is unplugged. Enjoying the social and economic benefits of the internet also inherently means accepting and learning to manage risk.

Just as the world was shocked by the devastation of New Orleans, a scenario that has been predicted for decades, so to will the globe be staggered by the failure of the internet. There are still many people and institutions who don’t appreciate just how intertwined the internet has become in virtually every aspect of modern society.

New Orleans will eventually be rebuilt in some form. The internet will most likely be repaired much more quickly. However, the consequences of each failure will reverberate long after working infrastructures have been restored.

What is needed is not just to protect the internet but also to prepare for the time when those protections fail.

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