• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • July 3, 2015 in Columnists

    Was Wave Broadband outage a terrorism dress rehearsal?

    There I was, early last Tuesday morning, Twittering away, when suddenly… connection lost. Just then, my husband called to me, “Is your internet working?


    Although we rarely have problems with our Wave Broadband service (overall, I give them two thumbs up), I’ve learned from the handful of interruptions we’ve had to check the television. If the television is also knocked out, it’s time to call Wave. Sure enough, the TV was dead in the water, but rather than the usual snow on the screen, it was just black.


    I called Wave, and it got even weirder. The recording said, “Due to a high volume of calls, we are unable to take your call at this time. Please try again later.” That never happens. Wave always answers the phone, with real people at the other end. Very strange. Hmmm. Must be a whopper of an outage. Maybe some bonehead cut a line with heavy machinery again?

    With no internet, my husband and I did something novel for a work morning — we sat and chatted over coffee. Wow — remember when people did that every morning instead of logging onto Facebook? Imagine how much time we’d spend together if a computer screen wasn’t siphoning it away.

    Later that morning, at the Express office, our AT&T service was working just fine. I got right to work, and not long after, my husband emailed me links to the local television news stations, reporting that Wave declared the massive outage, affecting most of the Sacramento area and Rocklin, a “coordinated attack.” The hair on my arms stood up. My spidey senses sizzled. “Coordinated attack” is just a polite way of saying “terrorism.”

    Holy crap. Were we under attack again? The next time insane homicidal terrorists come a-callin’, will they launch into our communication systems rather than tall buildings? Of course, my thoughts were pre-shaded by all the recent crowing on the televised news about some sort of terrorist attack that may occur somewhere, somehow, sometime, because Independence Day and Ramadan are having a concurrence, and why that’s significant isn’t clear, but be afraid, be very, very afraid, and also enjoy the Fourth of July, and above all, keep tuning in so you know what to be afraid of.

    On Thursday evening, NBC Nightly News actually led with a story entitled, “Nation on the Edge,” that turned out to be mostly coverage of a false alarm shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, and the massive (and understandable) response that ensued. This was followed by vague warnings of potential terrorist attacks over the Fourth of July holiday. All in all, “Nation on the Edge” is a tad hysterical, don’t you think?

    Note to all you insane homicidal terrorists — kick back and relax. Your work here is done. You don’t need to terrify the American public. The mainstream media is doing a fine job of that.

    Despite my anger over televised media’s attempt to manipulate the masses into obedience via concocted fear so we’ll tune in and watch commercials for prescription drugs we don’t need, my mind was whirring nonetheless. The words “coordinated attack” haven’t been tossed around much since 9/11. There wasn’t just one plane. There were four. Were more hits coming? Would AT&T also go down? Verizon? What if all internet access had a catastrophic collapse? What would we do? What would you do? Do you have a plan? I know I don’t. Not really, other than to pace the floor and fret.

    If our internet system collapses like the Twin Towers, you couldn’t access your bank accounts. Credit cards. Healthcare records. In many places, you couldn’t purchase groceries or gas. You might not be able to contact loved ones. Do your work. Get a paycheck (which you couldn’t cash anyway). Airlines, traffic signals, power plants — they all require internet access. We’re become completely dependent on a functioning internet. It’s our Achilles heel. Pierce it, and we die.

    With an extended time without internet access, how long would it take for Americans to go all Lord of the Flies? Within a week, I’m guessing there’d be a sow’s head on every flagpole. We’re that dependent on the internet. It’s not good, people. We need to have Plan B in our pockets now. What if there was no internet, and no repairs in sight. Where would we get our information? How would we contact loved ones? Do we have some emergency cash and drinking water stashed? Do we always keep at least a quarter tank of gas in the car? I fall short on every count. Not good.

    I did have one epiphany last Tuesday — I used to tease my husband about his ham radio hobby. But in the event that we lose internet and telephone service, the ham radio geeks may be the heroes. They’ll still be able to communicate, and know how to get messages to people from across the county or country. They even have practice drills every week so they know what to do in an emergency. Hmmm. Maybe ham radio isn’t so dorky after all.

    While Wave scrambled to repair its severed fiber-optic lines last Tuesday, the FBI issued a statement downgrading the outage to “vandalism.” Hmmm. There’s a fine line between a coordinated attack and vandalism. You say tomayto, I say tomahto. Soon after, USA Today reported that the FBI is investigating “at least 11 physical attacks on high-capacity internet cables in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dating back a year, including one early Tuesday morning.”

    That’s a lot of “vandalism,” don’t you think? Me, I think somebody’s out there practicing. Doing a test run. Seeing how the public, the afflicted companies and the government respond. A terrorism dress rehearsal, if you will.

    The story goes on to note that these incidents date back to July 6, 2014, and that “‘The pattern of attacks raises serious questions about the glaring vulnerability of critical Internet infrastructure,’ said JJ Thompson, CEO of Rook Security, a security consulting and services provider in Indianapolis.”

    Ya think?

    So, was the Wave outage last week part of a dress rehearsal for something on a much larger scale? Even if it wasn’t, maybe it should serve as a dress rehearsal for us. We shouldn’t wonder if horrible people will destroy our internet connections. We should assume that they will. And we should have a better plan in place than running a sow’s head up the flagpole.






      • Madgew

      • July 3, 2015 at 11:59 am
      • Reply

      Calm it down Debra downer 🙂 store cash and you will be fine. We will go back to helping each other and enjoying our neighbors. We will be just fine without Internet. I am addicted to it but this would be a forced departure and I for sure would be better off with a break. My friends are close and my neighbors all know each other and I have lots of wine stored up. Also emergency backpacks all fortified. Check out Emergency Essentuals online while you still can:)

      • Let me give you a scenario: You are in Chicago, on a layover from LA to New York. Your mother/sister/daughter is in critical condition in a hospital. Undergoing emergency surgery. It’s the dead of winter. You’re basically traveling with the clothes on your back and the cash in your wallet.
        Boom. Internet has a colossal collapse. Coordinated attack. ALL of it is down, all at once, all over the nation.
        You will not be able to take the connecting flight to New York. The planes will all be grounded.
        You will only be able to buy as much food as you have cash for, because your credit/debit cards won’t work.
        You won’t be able to place a phone call, except on a pay phone. Try and find one.
        The airport will turn icy cold because there are computers controlling the circulation system.
        You will be stuck there in that airport as the entire city turns to gridlock and panic – for as long as it takes to get communications up.
        Meanwhile, your mother/sister/daughter has died because her internet medical files disappeared and the power system controlling the hospital collapsed. You won’t know that for a month, however, because cell phone communication has also been cut.
        That’s just ONE scenario.

          • Greg

          • July 5, 2015 at 3:01 am

          OK there are some big holes in this scenario, 1) Credit cards are not 100% dependent on the internet. Remember the CC imprinters with the carbon copy? 2) All infrastructure has back up generators and the environmental systems are intranet not internet, in other words they are on a local machine not on the web. 3) All hospitals are required and have back up generators for power and the electronic charts are able to be accessed locally. When you are admitted they download your chart to the server and upload updates of your condition to the master file.

        • Don’t you think terrorists also know these things and plan for that? And – how many businesses do you know that still have carbon copy imprinters? And – in a colossal failure – how long will generators last?

          • Greg

          • July 5, 2015 at 5:16 pm

          I know of several businesses that have imprinters. They are in place at my suggestion.

          As long as the generators are fueled they will run.

        • Are these businesses drug stores? Grocery stores? Gas stations? The places most people would desperately need? I have not seen a carbon imprinter in those types of businesses in ages. As for fuel for the generators – it will have to be pumped from a gas station that does not require internet or computers. So, you’d have to find little mom & pop gas stations that aren’t computerized. When is the last time you saw one of those? The generators will run for only as long as fuel can be purchased.

          • Greg

          • July 5, 2015 at 5:51 pm

          My local super market has one, also several convenience stores and a bar or two. The hospitals here don’t just go to the pump to get diesel it is trucked in by a fuel tanker. HIPPA laws state that all hospitals have an analog phone system as back-up and most have some type of satellite up-link. I am not saying that it wont create all kinds of chaos and discontent but a lot of our infrastructure is ready for this.

        • You have a much more optimistic view than I do. We may limp by for awhile, but I am not talking about a localized outage. I’m talking about a nationwide, catastrophic collapse. People may get by for a week or so, but beyond that, with no communications system, no banking, no purchasing, the whole country will turn inside out. Just imagine Los Angeles or San Francisco without functioning traffic lights. Just THAT. Chaos. Imagine all airlines, grounded. All banking systems dead in the water. Not for a day or two, but weeks. The average American is completely unprepared for this.

      • Arry

      • July 3, 2015 at 12:46 pm
      • Reply

      WHOOEE! I am so glad that you said that, I was feeling like I was the only one who thought about terrorist practice after reading that this had been done 11 times. I am not one for conspiracy theories but I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing. FYI, I have Wave in my office and my home making it difficult to get any work done….it sucked!

      • I am not normally one to buy into all the media-whipped terrorism hype. But ELEVEN such incidences, all in one area… somebody is testing the waters. And, during that day, I began wondering how a total collapse would play out. It’s not impossible. Sixteen years ago, we would have thought it impossible to hijack four airplanes and fly two of them into the Twin Towers and cause them to collapse on themselves and kill thousands of people, and take the whole country hostage psychologically. But it happened. If they attack again, it won’t be with airplanes. We need to ASSUME they will attack again, and this time be ready.

    • Sadly, there is nothing we can do about it so instead of having anxiety I can prepare as best as I can. I have emergency supplies because of earthquakes already. I have water stored and freeze dried food to last a few weeks. I also have tons of cash and when I go anywhere out of town I take a wad with me. I used to be a very anxious person and I have given it up. When it happens I figure I will figure it out and if not just die. I have had a great life and since death doesn’t scare me I am as prepared as I can be. I refuse to live in the fear of an attack. They win if you are fearful. Just my two cents.

    • How would you be ready?

      • That is an excellent question. I don’t really have an answer. I’m hoping the government would anticipate this sort of terrorism and have multiple duplicate systems ready just in case.

      • Joe

      • July 5, 2015 at 6:24 pm
      • Reply

      Greg, you obviously haven’t been in a position where you had to use an imprinter, where there is no imprinter. No one who even knows what one is. A place which more than a generation ago stopped training employees what to do if the internet is down. This is the majority of businesses today. I’ve been there. Even their phones now depend on the internet, so there is no calling in for an authorization code. Sorry, no credit card without authorization.

      COULD we function without it. History proves it to be so. WILL we. Pretty much, no. Not until the post-internet business world starts taking seriously the possibility (probability?) of extended outage.

      • What Joe said.

          • Greg

          • July 6, 2015 at 8:32 am

          OK, today the average American is not capable to use critical thinking. The old rotary and push button phones will work without internet. AT&T still uses the old fashioned switches. Don’t believe me? Run into one of those big phone boxes on the corner of your street and watch people flip out over having no phone. The phone system is still analog with digital starting to take over. I have used an imprinter and when not able to get a verification code the business has the option to take down license number and verify identity and write that on the receipt, just like they did in the 70’s. As for the comment about taking down the nations internet good luck with that. Getting to the main trunk lines is almost impossible, and from those there are 30 -40 that go north /south and about 10 more that run east/west. Plus you have the Fiber network that the government put in in the 80’s that Google is using to feed there ISP. Comcast and the like have there own trunk lines now and we still have the DARPA system in place.

          Will people freak out? Yes, but it is up to those who remember what it was like without the net to help those who don’t.

        • “Just like they did in the ’70s”? Oh please. It isn’t the same world anymore. Yes, those of us who remember the ’70s will have fond memories of a time when the world worked a different way. It no longer works that way. As for those “big phone boxes on the corner of your street” – DUDE. Where do you live that you see telephone booths or pay phones? I can tell you there isn’t ONE in the city where I live. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one. And, even IF there was a payphone in town – we have a mere 6,000 people in my town. If even a fourth of them needed to use the phone – how long would it take? How long would the line be? Consider the complete meltdown after Hurricane Katrina. Everything ground to a halt.
          As for the fiber networks being too many and in too many places – that is merely a matter of coordination. No one would have thought that foreign terrorists could simultaneously hijack four major US airplanes and crash them into buildings in a coordinated attack. We are underestimating what they’re capable of. The next time they attack, it won’t be with airplanes. It will be with keyboards and cable-cutters.
          You do realize that the ’70s were 40 years ago, right?

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