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The nuclear launch button won't be pressed by a finger but by a bot

Pay me $500 in Bitcoin or... oh look, everyone's dead

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Nothing could hurry Cool Dave. Tall and taciturn, he would make his way around school between classes at his own pace. When he talked, he not so much spoke as delivered a quiet soliloquy in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

Cool Dave looked you in the eye. He spent time considering before answering questions. He never gesticulated.

Even if it looked like he was going to be late for a class, which was always, he would walk at his usual speed regardless. And he never got into trouble for arriving after a class had already begun, which was always, because Cool Dave was cool. The teachers seemed mollified by his comportment.

Another cool guy at my school was Carl. I have never understood why red-haired people complain about discrimination because Carl had gone full red – hair, skin, the lot – and was still the coolest bloke in our year. He even had a cool name.

He had strong views about everything but would listen to yours. His family had money but his politics were anarchist. He dressed like a Mod but could hang out with the Punks.

Memorably in one Economics class, he spent the hour slumped across his desk, almost lifeless apart from the occasional theatrical sigh. When the teacher asked if he was OK, he turned to the ceiling and responded to no one in particular: "What's the point of all this? We're all going to get vapped anyway."

You see, at the beginning of the 1980s, we didn't just sit around making origami X-wings. We were also terribly upset about the prospect of getting vapped – vaporised, that is – as the result of international muscle-flexing between superpowers.

Back then, mutually assured nuclear destruction was government policy.

Today, only pot-bellied North Korean despots bother with all that crap. The world's other leading madmen in China, Russia and the US love money too much to want to destroy the world, especially the off-shore and unregulated European bits where their money happens to be squirrelled away.

However, nuclear obliteration is starting to look like a genuine possibility once again. This time, it won't be through government action so much as inaction. The button won't be pressed by any of Donald Trump's little fingers but by a bot, tearing its way effortlessly through wafer-thin security in order to spread a virus or hold data to ransom, and tripping over that Launch button by mistake.

Put your faith in God, if you like, but it won't make any difference. We're all going to heaven, lads!

Youtube Video

The recent acceleration in reported cases of hacking teaches us a lot about how the private and public sectors approach their IT.

The private sector, which can afford to spend decent money on getting the IT infrastructure right, suffers from one tiny limiting factor: bosses on their multimillion bonuses couldn't give a flying fuck about its customers, only its customers' money, and even then only when it becomes their money. This explains why customer IDs and personal information are leaked freely to hackers with wild abandon while security measures surrounding incoming financial transactions are curiously bulletproof.

I sympathise with the poor sods working in IT security at the moment. You have a reputation for being highly paid, which I suspect is fake news derived from too many recruitment consultants believing whatever they see on LinkedIn, and are expected to do the job of ten better-paid staff who were made redundant last week in order to boost the boss's bonus even more.

One recent survey estimates that 83 per cent of IT security staff in the US waste an hour a week fixing personal computer problems for colleagues in other departments.

I can see it now. "Oh, Bill, you do computery stuff. Could you have a look at my laptop? I think it may have one of those ransom viruses. A message keeps popping up telling me to buy a subscription to somebody called Norton."

Come on, guys. Surely we've grown out of this by now? It's bad enough fighting off the neighbours without so-called friends at work taking advantage of your goodwill and knowhow.

Why do they do it? All I can think of is that it must be something to do with the very nature of computing itself. If I went around saying I was a proctologist instead, I'm quite sure they wouldn't all be clamouring for me to stick my finger up their arses. At least, not without an appointment.

Now, the public sector is a very different kettle of worms, as my malapropistic old MacUser editor used to say. Public sector bosses do give a fuck. Their problem is that they don't have a fucking clue.

This is the opinion of Dr Sandro Gaycken, director of the Digital Society Institute at the ESMT Berlin business school and director of NATO's SPS cyber defence project. When it comes to IT security, governments – and by extension the trusts and agencies they direct – are nothing less than "incompetent", says Dr Gaycken.

"They simply do not understand the problem. They struggle to get sufficient numbers of specialised cyber experts to help – instead relying on hordes of lobbyists, pseudo-experts and opportunists."

The lack of a co-ordinated approach to something as fundamental as basic operating system support, let alone the fineries of security, opened Britain's National Health Service to a clumsy but effective automated ransom attack a few weeks ago. Who's to say all other components of the woefully inadequate public sector information systems aren't similarly at risk?

Not content to criticise government IT purchasing, Dr Gaycken puts the willies up all of us by suggesting that a cyberattack could set off nuclear weapons inadvertently.

Sure, there is always a risk of a foreign power trying to hack into the atomic silo systems of another, but this would be in order to disable them. The scenario envisaged by Dr Gaycken is a cyberattack, whether an automated ransom attack or a focused DDoS, that aims to extort money or cause mayhem for the sake of it but accidentally causes the computers controlling a nuclear arsenal to crash or behave unpredictably.

"We could have a situation where up to 3,000 nuclear missiles are affected by one attack."

Oh joy. So in the spirit of holding governments to account, given that the UK is in the throes of a General Election this coming week, I offer a little background music below to help my fellow Brits think about what they are voting for in the light of what my university tutors used to call "the American Experience".

On the other hand, who cares? We're all going to get vapped anyway.

Youtube Video

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He invites casual viewers of the video above to freeze it at 1:04 and consider the prescience of what you are seeing, given that the song and video were made in 1999. It'll never happen, they said. So, a bit like nuclear war, then?

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