As I discussed in my previous musing, I recently had to deal with a wildfire near my home in the mountains of California. As many of you know, global issues have created environmental conditions conducive to various natural disasters, not the least of which is wildfires. 

Over the last few decades, there has been a steady increase in global temperatures and, in the case of California, extreme drought. In turn, the lack of water leads to the death and consequent drying of vegetative growth, and when combined with extreme heat (the temperature on the day the Oak Fire started was 108F/42C), all it takes is a little spark to start a wildfire, which quickly grows out of control.

Now temperatures in many European cities have also reached these scorching levels. Europeans are now beginning to deal with forest fires, which are part of California's natural life cycle. However, they are not typical in many European countries. 

What makes forest fires particularly disastrous today is that places once only inhabited by trees and wildlife are now increasingly inhabited by humans and all their possessions (houses, cars, and so on). Mixing in the artificial materials creates conditions that take a forest fire from being a natural ecological event to an absolute disaster. 

So, let's look at this in terms of the networked world. There was a time when the networked world was sparsely populated. A cybersecurity issue was generally a nuisance rather than a potential disaster. Now, a cybersecurity event has the potential to snowball into a catastrophe. The risk has increased with the immense growth in the network population.

Moreover, the ability of a cybersecurity “firestorm” to spread quickly and impact unforeseen systems has now become a genuine concern. Now, this is very important to consider because, with the explosion of networked devices, many approaches to addressing cybersecurity have not grown to match the potential for a large cybersecurity disaster. Organizations that have invested efforts in cybersecurity management and recovery due to events that happened a decade ago may be unaware of how much more at risk they are as times have changed.

So the same holds true when we look at cybersecurity attacks. Attacking some systems can be more or less “toxic,” depending on what the machine holds and the attack itself. A perfect example is DDoS amplification attacks, where vulnerable systems amplify attacks. As a salient example, in the February 2018 GitHub DDoS Attack, the attackers were able to amplify the attack by a factor of 50,000!

These are just a few examples, but it illustrates the importance of understanding just how serious a cybersecurity issue can be once it is let loose. This is truly a raging toxic dumpster fire in the world of cybersecurity, and the ability to locate systems vulnerable to such attacks and identify environmental conditions (e.g., the existence of malware) that can carry out the attack is critical.

Going forward, I want to consider some of these disasters and specifically discuss how the level of danger during a cybersecurity disaster varies based on the specific systems and environments in the disaster’s pathway.

As we have learned in California, not all wildfires are the same. The environmental impact has more to do with the location than the fire's size. Stay tuned.

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