So what, exactly? It’s not our fault, then? There’s a weird fatalism that underlies this article, and its conclusion that the solution is more robust components is almost certainly not how we’re going to resolve the problem of architecting and maintaining a complex system, but it does offer one flavor of how the public is being trained to think about this issue: Who Needs Hackers?
Yes, hackers are still out there, and not just teenagers: malicious insiders, political activists, mobsters and even government agents all routinely test public and private computer networks and occasionally disrupt services. But experts say that some of the most serious, even potentially devastating, problems with networks arise from sources with no malevolent component.
Whether it’s the Los Angeles customs fiasco or the unpredictable network cascade that brought the global Skype telephone service down for two days in August, problems arising from flawed systems, increasingly complex networks and even technology headaches from corporate mergers can make computer systems less reliable. Meanwhile, society as a whole is growing ever more dependent on computers and computer networks, as automated controls become the norm for air traffic, pipelines, dams, the electrical grid and more.
“We don’t need hackers to break the systems because they’re falling apart by themselves,” said Peter G. Neumann, an expert in computing risks and principal scientist at SRI International, a research institute in Menlo Park, Calif.