2016: Positive Prognosis?
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As luck would have it, we made it through another year without a successful energy grid attack by the medieval fundamentalists or Russian antagonists who are seeking to paralyze America into darkness and powerlessness. 

On October 15, 2015, U.S. law enforcement officials publicly revealed information on hack attempts at a national conference of American energy companies focusing on national security concerns.

“‘ISIL is beginning to perpetuate cyberattacks,’ Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, told company executives,” reported Jose Pagliery at CNNMoney.

“Terrorists are not currently using the most sophisticated hacking tools to break into computer systems and turn off or blow up machines,” stated the CNNMoney report.

John Riggi, section chief at the FBI’s cyber division, concisely summarized the current condition: “Strong intent. Thankfully, low capability.” The deficient capability, however, could be short-term. “The concern is that they’ll buy that capability,” cautioned Riggi.

“Indeed, hacking software is up for sale in black markets online,” explained Pagliery. “The FBI now worries that the Islamic State or its supporters will buy malicious software that can sneak into computers and destroy electronics. An attack on power companies could disrupt the flow of energy to U.S. homes and businesses.” 

And it’s not just some religious firebrands who are the problem. Riggi made known that malware found in 2014 on industrial control systems at energy companies — including pumps and engines — were traced to the Russian government.

More recently, a January 5, 2016 report in the Washington Post, “Russian hackers suspected in attack that blacked out parts of Ukraine” by Ellen Nakashima, a national security reporter at the Post focusing on issues relating to intelligence and technology, stated that “U.S. Homeland Security and intelligence agencies are analyzing computer code from what appears to be one of the first known cyberattacks that resulted in an electric power outage — this one in Ukraine.”

The incidents, occurring on December 23, “which lasted several hours and affected tens of thousands of people, were reported by Ukraine power authorities in the capital region and in the western part of the country,” reported Nakashima. “The power authorities said that control systems used to coordinate remote substations were disabled in the cyberattack.”

The Ukrainian SBU security service blamed the attack on the Russian government. The U.S. government, including Homeland Security and intelligence officials, has not publicly commented on the attack.

“But private-sector analysts who have reviewed the malicious software see the attack as a rare instance in which a hacking incident involving an industrial control system has affected ordinary citizens,” reported Nakashima.

“That is a milestone in itself,’’ said John Hultquist, director of cyberespionage analysis for iSight Partners, a computer security firm, regarding the attack.

“Hultquist said his firm sees links between the malware used in the recent outages and a cyberespionage campaign against NATO and Western European government targets that iSight discovered in 2013 and that was conducted by a group of hackers in Russia whose interests aligned with the Russian government,” reported Nakashima. “The firm dubbed that group SandWorm.”

Hultquist said he has “high confidence” that the Ukrainian attack was Russian in origin.

“Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, iSight has documented instances of SandWorm infiltrating Ukrainian government computer systems as well as in the country’s telecommunications and energy industries,” reported Nakashima. “The strain of malware apparently used to gain access to the power system is similar to the one used by SandWorm in 2013 and 2014, iSight said.”

Although the greater concern is attacks from other countries and foreign groups, threats can also emanate from domestic terrorists and homegrown assemblages of politicized blockheads, cautioned Mark Lemery, a protection coordinator in Utah for the defense of critical infrastructure.

Nevertheless, we’re still here and the lights are still on, so maybe it’s time in the new year to look back and forward with some appreciation, hopefulness and confidence — or maybe not.

Said Kahlil Gilbran, on the positive side, “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction is to live twice.”

Equally upbeat was Frank Lloyd Wright: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”

But the negative observers have a point too.

Asked the question, “If you find so much unworthy of reverence in the United States, why do you live here?” American essayist and critic H. L. Mencken replied, “Why do men go to zoos?”

Mencken’s analysis, similarly, of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he sorely needed, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House backyard come Wednesday.”

And the government as the solution, operated by those who haughtily and disingenuously define themselves as “non-profit” self-effacing “public servants”? Perhaps American humorist Kin Hubbard had a more accurate interpretation of government: “A kind of legalized pillage.”

On progress, from Will Rogers: “You can’t say civilizations don’t advance. In every war, they kill you in a new way.”

Does any thoughtful and knowledgeable person think we’ll get some revolutionary or fundamental advances in America by way of Trump, Hillary, Bernie Sanders or Ben Carson, or from Obama’s presidency, or via some autocratic theocrats, foreign or domestic?

“There won’t be any revolution in America,” wrote British writer Eric Linklater. “The people are too clean. They spend all their time changing their shirts and washing themselves. You can’t feel fierce and revolutionary in a bathroom.”

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