Ted Koppel is more than just a broadcasting icon: he is the author of a new book, Lights Out, which details with terrifying skill our
vulnerability to cyberattacks on the electrical grid and the chaos such attacks would inevitably cause. Here, he explains how we can
prepare for grid attacks and the role new media plays in keeping us politically divided on this important issue — a reminder of the need
for well-informed journalism with an appetite for deep stories and the ability to convey them.
Octavian Report: How high do you think cyberattacks on the electrical grid rank on the list of threats the U.S. currently faces?
Ted Koppel: I think the threat of a cyberattack on the grid is significantly greater than the threat of an EMP attack on the grid, simply because a nuclear explosion over the United States has not just a psychological, but a geopolitical flavor to it. I don’t think there would be as much confusion in the minds of America’s leadership in terms of how to respond to an EMP attack, which would be devastating. If anything, it would be even more devastating than a cyberattack, but I think far, far less likely. I think the likelihood of a cyberattack is great.
What you have at the moment is a situation in which those with the greatest capability, the Chinese and the Russians, are least likely to do it. In each case, with the Chinese for example, you had a massive cyberattack, a vacuuming-up of intelligence information when they hacked into the Office of Personnel Management and stole 21.5 or 22 million personnel files with all kinds of very private background information on staff members at the State Department, the Defense Department, the CIA, the FBI. They have enough information there to keep their analysts busy for the next few years, but that’s an intelligence attack. The mere fact that cyber-mechanisms give that a greater efficiency than we have ever seen in the gathering of intelligence material before is something.
You have the former director of the CIA sort of tipping his hat to them and saying, “Wow, not bad.” There was almost a sense of: “I wish we had done something equivalent.” For all I know, we have done something equivalent. Everything I say about the capability of our most efficient adversaries also applies in spades to the United States. Anything the Chinese can do to us, anything the Russians can do to us, we can do to them and doubtless are doing. I think one of the reasons there is not, or was not, a greater response to what the Chinese did is precisely because we are engaged in the same kind of vacuuming-up of Chinese intelligence information, although there is no evidence that we have been quite as successful as the Chinese were.
To get back to my basic point, and taking the Russians as an example, you have most recently their hacking into the DNC and the release of that information and the extraordinary response that we had from Donald Trump. Again, this is relatively minor-league stuff compared to the capabilities that both the Chinese and the Russians have in terms of being able to take out a significant portion of our infrastructure.
The reason that I focused in particular on the electric grid is that almost everything else is dependent upon electricity, whether it’s water supply, whether it’s communication, whether it’s air traffic control and therefore the ability to keep commercial air traffic aloft. All of these things are dependent upon electricity. If you knock the grid out, there is some capability to keep aspects of banking going with emergency generators, but it’s limited. It’s limited not only in terms of immediate capability, it’s limited in terms of the capacity to keep it going because when you run out of fuel, you run out of fuel and the ability to replenish that fuel supply is very much in question when you’re talking about massive quantities, as you would be.
Back to my original point: the greater the capability of our cyber-adversaries — and again, I pinpoint the Chinese and the Russians — the lower the likelihood that they would actually conduct a cyberattack against our infrastructure. It is, when you think about it, equivalent to a declaration of war. The United States essentially has three grids. If you take out all or part of the Eastern Interconnect, for example, you’re going to be denying electricity to tens of millions of people, potentially for a period of weeks or even months. The amount of damage that would do in terms of fatalities, in terms of the inability to function, would throw us back into the middle of the 19th century without any of the capacity to survive in that kind of an environment that our forefathers had.
So on the one hand, you’ve got the Chinese and the Russians with great capability, but because of the many interlocking interests that we have with China, with Russia, I put the likelihood of them launching that kind of a cyberattack fairly low. As you go down the capability scale, however, you find yourself going up the likelihood scale. You can almost draw a simple graph on a map with one line going from high to low and the other line going from low to high, intersecting. You’ve got nations like Iran, whose cyber-capabilities are quite significant and who may indeed already have the capability of taking out all or part of the grid. Though I haven’t found anyone who says, “Yes, they’ve got it.”
I need to point out at this stage that getting into the grid in such a way that you could take it down, that you could cause cascading failures that could be maintained by cyber-warfare, is not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly complex. Experts at the NSA have told me that it has probably taken the Russians and the Chinese at least a couple of years simply to map the grid to the point that they could in theory do the kind of damage I’m talking about. Have the Iranians reached that point yet? Hard to say, but they’re not far behind. There, too, we have interlocking interests.
As you go down the scale of capability, however, you go way up the scale of likelihood. A nation like North Korea, which also has cyber-capabilities as seen in their attack on Sony and their attacks on South Korean broadcasting, has capacities that we cannot afford to underestimate. The likelihood of a leader like Kim Jong-un turning to something like a major cyberattack should not be discounted.
Come down the scale a little bit further. Let’s examine Syria. When the Obama administration was talking about the chemical-weapons red line in Syria, the Syrians launched a hacking attack on the Associated Press. They managed to insert a phony story saying that there had been an attack on the White House and we did not yet know what had happened to the President. The market, the Dow Jones, dropped several hundred points in a matter of minutes. The AP quickly discovered that this was a phony story. They put out a correction and the market readjusted, but depending on who was in there, depending on who would have been selling short, let’s say, when the market dropped a few hundred points, someone, potentially, could have made several billion dollars in a matter of minutes. It’s simply an example of how cyberattacks can have an extraordinary impact on the economy, and (as we now see with what appears to be the Russian hacking into the DNC) on our political process.
These are things that cannot be discounted, but again, if we get to the point that a cyberattack on the grid becomes part of the arsenal of an outfit like ISIS, there is no doubt in my mind that they would use it. This, after all, is an organization that wants to inflict maximum damage at minimum cost to themselves. The fact of the matter is that there has never been a time in history when a terrorist group has had access to what I will describe as a weapon of mass destruction. The internet, for all its many positive virtues, has become a weapon of mass destruction. The internet can be used to inflict unbelievable damage on a country like the United States, which is so dependent on the internet.
OR: One of the themes in your book is the lack of urgency around this issue. Why do you think there is such a lack of urgency, and what would it actually entail or cost to protect the grid, if it’s even possible?
Koppel: Let me quote Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security. I think he made a very smart observation about our political process: “We are very bad at taking preemptive action. We specialize in overreacting after the fact.” You have only to look at the aftermath of 9/11 to see that laid out in spades. We have spent somewhere in the realm of
$3 trillion on two wars, and to what end? I can only imagine that Osama Bin Laden, as he watched the wars unfold in Afghanistan and in Iraq, must have been hitting himself on the head, saying, “I can’t believe that we have been this successful.”
Think about the cost-per-result. Al-Qaeda is estimated to have spent less than half a million dollars sending 19 men over here. They did what terrorism always attempts to do, and that is to get a much stronger enemy, an enemy whom they cannot fight in any conventional fashion, to overreact. If you accept the notion that that is one of the principle goals of terrorism, you have to look at what the United States and its allies have done in the wake of 9/11 and say, “Wow. That is a huge victory for al-Qaeda.”
ISIS is now playing the same game with these horrible attacks. Some are horrible in terms of scope, and others, like the slitting of the throat of the priest in Normandy, are horrible in terms of the image they project. I don’t necessarily believe that the people who actually carry out these attacks think in these larger terms, but those who encourage young men and women to go out and blow themselves up or engage in these horrible attacks most certainly do. Did al-Qaeda or ISIS have anything to do with the truck attack in Nice? Probably not. Almost certainly not. But given the environment these days, everyone assumes that they did, so they win even when they had nothing to do with it.
What they have succeeded in doing is creating a political climate in which a Donald Trump can flourish and say, “I’m going to go after these guys.” Or a Ted Cruz can talk about making the desert glow, the implication being he would use nuclear weapons. Really? Is that a serious proposal? Not really, but it’s the kind of proposal that can elicit from frustrated, not terribly well-informed people a, “Yeah, that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to hurt them bad.”
I think the President has been very sensible in not wanting to give them that overreaction, not wanting to give them that political victory. But that’s a very tough political goal to pull off, because people want vengeance. They don’t want restraint, even though restraint is exactly the right response. Restraint combined with well-targeted reaction, which doesn’t always have to be big, doesn’t always have to be public. Our drone attacks, for example, have been very successful. Going after terrorism with economic sanctions can be very effective, but not terribly satisfying to an audience that wants to see vengeance.
OR: In our interview with Gen. Michael Hayden, he made the point that it’s no longer enough to have the consent of Congress for things that are done quietly, that in the age of social media you need broader public approval. Do you think that this is putting us at risk?
Koppel: Look, there is a wonderful proverb that time is the mother of truth, the implication being that immediate reports of an event are almost invariably flawed. Before you get to a really accurate account, a great deal of time sometimes has to transpire.
Think about where we are at the moment. How, particularly when you talk about the Millennial generation, are we communicating? We are communicating, first of all, with platforms like Twitter, where brevity is essential. You marry brevity to an instantaneous response, and it seems to me that you are moving in exactly the opposite direction from arriving at truth. What you arrive at is a sort of visceral reporting that immediately makes its way around millions of recipients.
Again, we come back to the success of the Trump campaign. He told me the other day that he now has 20 million followers on social media, on Twitter and on Facebook. They are not, I would argue, media of journalism. Journalism requires checking your facts. Journalism requires going after two or three sources. Journalism requires sifting what you can factually say from what is still in doubt. Journalism requires editing. Social media are putting us in a situation where information is being spread at the speed of light around the world without the intervention of professionals whose job it has traditionally been to say, “Well, let’s see how close we can come to establishing facts.”
Ben Bradlee, the great editor from the Washington Post, used to say, “We don’t deal in truth in journalism. We deal in facts.” What he meant was that if someone says, “Ted Koppel, the well-known drug dealer” — if the President says that — all of my colleagues out there are perfectly justified in reporting tomorrow morning or this afternoon, “President Obama today accused Ted Koppel of being a drug dealer.” That’s a fact. Is it true? No. And that’s the difference between truth and facts, but we aren’t even very good these days at sifting out the facts from pure speculation. That’s a very dangerous environment.
OR: Do you see any hope that the social media situation will normalize itself?
Koppel: No. I don’t see any hope that that’s going to change. Ironically, it could change if there were a cyberattack on our power grid. All of a sudden, all of the iPhones lose power and you can’t communicate by iPhone, or laptop computer, or Facebook, or any of the social media. I think the psychological impact, particularly on our younger people, is going to be enormous.
You know, I was in Central Park the other day. A Sunday. I just went there to read the New York Times and have a cup of coffee. I was watching people walking by. Out of 50 people who walked by, 37 of them — I counted — were engrossed in their iPhone. Even when they were part of a group of three or four or five people, they weren’t talking to one another. They were looking at their iPhones, and the other 13 were actually talking to each other and did not have iPhones in view. That’s pretty devastating.
Now, 25 years ago, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. Whether he deserved that distinction we can talk about. But the fact of the matter was people just assumed that when they tuned in at 6:30 that night, and Walter gave them half an hour of what he and the CBS news team perceived to be the most important, the most relevant events of the day, that when, at the end of that newscast Walter said, “And that’s the way it is. Goodnight.” — well, that’s the way it was. People accepted that, and there was a commonality of view among the millions of people who watched not just CBS but also ABC and NBC, a commonality of view regarding what was important in the country.
That led to a greater level of cooperation in Congress. Representatives and Senators knew what their constituents regarded as important and knew that they were expected to do something about it. The growth in partisanship is largely due, I think, to the establishment of Fox News and then the countervailing establishment of MSNBC. You can track it through talk radio on the left and talk radio on the right, and of course the many, many, many sites on the internet. The fact of the matter is, we have now come to a point where we live in a bifurcated nation where people simply do not believe anything that comes from a stovepipe outside their own experience.
I’ll give you an example. I occasionally do work now for CBS Sunday Morning. I did a piece last Sunday on Trump and his supporters, and then followed it up with an interview with Trump. Among his supporters, I talked to one guy and said, “Doesn’t it bother you that Mr. Trump lies so much?” He said, “Well, I don’t think that’s been proven.” I said, “Well, let’s just take an example.” I said, “If, these days, if a kitten fell into a toilet bowl, there would be three people with iPhones there to record the event, and yet, when Mr. Trump says that thousands of people on 9/11 were demonstrating in Jersey City, and he suggests that these were Arabs and Muslims who were rejoicing over the attack, how come there hasn’t been one single photograph produced to confirm that?” His answer was, “Well, those were different times.”
I suggest that Trump supporters are sort of hypnotized by the same process that engages us when we go to a movie or the theater: the willing suspension of disbelief. They want him to be right, they want him to be truthful. And therefore, he is. Anything that is said by the media or by his political opponents can automatically be dismissed. Everyone is his political opponent, so you don’t expect them to tell the truth about him.
Part of Trump’s genius is he is able to categorize people with a single phrase. Crooked Hillary. Lying Ted. Low-energy Jeb Bush. You know, you would look at him, and you would say, “Yeah, you know he doesn’t really seem to have a whole lot of energy.” Suddenly, we are judging people by standards that we haven’t employed before in making an important political decision.
But again, you take our dependence on social media today and you put that into an environment where suddenly from one minute to the next our electricity is gone, and apart from the obvious problems — no light, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no heating, inability to flush the toilet, water is no longer coming out of the taps — you also have within 24 to 48 hours an inability to communicate. If ever there was a formula for mass hysteria, that’s it. Deprive people of the most basic tools of civilization, and then deprive them of the ability to communicate with one another.
So my question is, if a cyberattack on the grid is likely and its success is likely, what’s the plan for the aftermath? What has the administration done to prepare the American public? The answer is they have simply thrown it into a massive collection with every natural disaster out there. They consider it to be the equivalent of a hurricane or a flood or a massive snowstorm or an earthquake, and it’s not. It’s totally different; unlike natural disasters, a cyberattack can be purposefully ongoing. There is somebody out there deliberately screwing around with your power grid and deliberately knocking it down. As soon as a fix is put in place, they knock it out somewhere else, and the main reason that it is so incredibly difficult to defend the grid is that the internet was never designed to be protected. The internet was created so that smart people could exchange good ideas with one another over enormous distances at the speed of light. The idea that somebody someday would try to attack the internet, indeed use the internet as a weapon of mass destruction, never occurred to the people who created it — nor should it have.
Overlay that with the fact that the electric power industry is a deregulated entity. It was the industry that sought to be deregulated, and it succeeded. You’ve got 3,200 companies out there that are all connected to one another. Some of them — the biggest, the wealthiest — have engaged in hugely expensive and largely successful methods of protecting their part of the network, but they are connected to smaller companies which don’t have the money and don’t have the inclination and haven’t spent the money to defend their part of the network. Like any other chain, the weakest link is the attack surface.
That’s the place where an enemy of the United States is going to enter into what are called the SCADA systems, the supervisory control and data analysis systems that keep the whole grid running. I don’t know how familiar your readers are with how the power grids work and how the electric industry works these days, but I analogize it in the book to a huge balloon with 3,200 valves. Half of those valves are taking air in. Half of those valves are letting air out, and as long as that is kept in perfect balance, the balloon stays inflated. Too much air in, the balloon bursts. Too much air out, the balloon collapses. It’s the same with the power grid. There has to be a perfect balance between the amount of electricity that’s generated and the amount of electricity that’s used. If you can screw around with those SCADA systems, then you create a series of cascading failures, and it can knock down all or part of a grid.
There is one other thing to mention here, because it’s terribly important. Unlike any other weapon of mass destruction that has ever been created before, unlike any other potential attack by an enemy of the United States, a cyberattack cannot immediately be pinpointed. It takes time; it can take weeks to figure out where the attack came from. Now, if you don’t know where it came from, you can’t quickly respond. As we are seeing right now, for example, with this hacking attack on the DNC. The FBI is pretty confident that it was a Russian attack. Having said that, can you say for certain that it was the Russian government that did it or was it just some Russian hacker sitting in St. Petersburg? How do you know?
When the President and his top security advisors are seated around the table in the situation room, and the President says, “Who did it? Who is responsible?”, it’s going to be a while before anyone can say with anything approaching certainty. And even then, what do you do? How do you respond? Do you take out the lights in St. Petersburg? You can do it, but then you are escalating, maybe, depending on what the nature of the original attack was. You don’t necessarily respond with cyber. You can use a kinetic response. You can respond with economic sanctions.
OR: What would you recommend people living in cities do to protect themselves?
Koppel: It depends on what their economic status is. That’s why there are two things I would recommend that the federal government do. I think the federal government has to begin replacing the meals ready-to-eat (MREs) that it has. The government has warehoused — I don’t even know what the number is, but let’s say for the sake of argument 50 million MREs. That sounds like a hell of a lot, but one MRE takes care of one person for one day. 50 million MREs will take care of 50 million people for one day, or 25 million people for two days. Is it going to take care of 30 million people for a month? Sorry, not going to happen. The reason that the government hasn’t warehoused more MREs is that they have a shelf life of five years. They don’t want to spend billions of dollars on 500 million MREs because they are going to have to throw them out after five years.
On the other hand, freeze-dried food has a shelf life of 25 to 30 years. It’s going to take, if you want to have enough freeze-dried food to last 30 million people for a couple of months, about $100 billion, and it’s going to take you two years to grow that much food, process that much food, pack that much food, and then store it. That’s if we began today. We’re not doing it.
The alternative is for city dwellers to leave town. The alternative is to go somewhere else. Someone with means can in point of fact get out of town, get to a place where the electricity is still functioning, and if he or she has enough money they can check into a hotel or they can rent an apartment, and they’re okay. But what about the millions of people who don’t have the means to do that? Is there any plan? There is this benign assumption that if people start flowing out of New York into Connecticut or New Jersey and Pennsylvania and just keep moving west, that at some point they are going to find electricity again and as fellow Americans they are going to be welcomed. No, they’re not. I cite the example of one state that is not terribly far from Washington, D.C. where the governor already pulled all his emergency folk together, representatives from the state police, the sheriff’s department, the state national guard, and said, “Here is what we’re going to do in the event of a major catastrophe. Tens of thousands of people flowing our way from the cities, you’re going to give them a bottle of water and a sandwich and a map showing them how to get out of town. But you are going to make the point firmly that we do not have the infrastructure in our state to handle thousands or tens of thousands of refugees.”
It just makes common sense to me that this is something that the federal government and state governments have to begin talking about and dealing with and making plans for, and they’re not doing it.
OR: Do you think individuals should be stockpiling food and water in their homes?
Koppel: That’s why I spent three chapters on the Mormons. The Mormons have been doing this for generations, and they do it not because they have been anticipating a cyberattack on the grid for generations, but because bad things have happened to Mormons going back to their creation in upstate New York. The Mormon frame of mind is: “Bad things happen. Wage-earners die. People lose jobs. There are depressions. There are natural disasters. There are political disasters. There are wars. There are all kinds of things which could create a situation for you where for a period of weeks or a couple of months it’s not easy for you to get food and water.” Therefore they are urged, and most of them do it, to have a three- to six-month supply of food and water and medicine. The worst thing that happens is they just keep rotating it. Instead of having that three-month supply in the basement and forgetting about it, they actually eat it and drink it. They eat the food. They drink the water, and they replace what they have eaten and drunk, so they always have a fresh supply in the basement.
I was invited to a party — not a cocktail party. You wouldn’t go to a cocktail party in a Mormon community. But I was invited to sort of the Mormon equivalent of a cocktail party with fruit juice and with canapes and food, all of which was prepared from freeze-dried food. Delicious. Really good stuff. They have had experience. They know how to do it, and I found it enlightening that there is a community that contains over six million people in this country who take the likelihood of bad things happening seriously and are not depending upon government to come to their aid.
OR: Do you think a catastrophic attack on the grid is inevitable?
Koppel: I think given enough time it’s inevitable. We have been holding our collective breaths now, as a nation and as a world, since 1945 that somehow nuclear weapons would fall into the wrong hands and someone would again use a nuclear device. That hasn’t happened, and people are therefore drawing the conclusion that, “Well, everybody was worried about an atomic bomb. Everybody was worried about a nuclear exchange, and here we are 70 years later, and nothing has happened.” True, but nothing has happened in large measure because none of these devices has fallen into the hands of a terrorist group.
I think we have a lot more to worry about these days when nuclear weapons are in the hands of a maniac like Kim Jong-un. I think he would use a nuclear weapon. He would be taking an extraordinary risk because I think the result would be that North Korea would be largely eliminated, but he might do it. Would a group like ISIS? They’re not going to be swayed by the possibility that they could be eliminated by a counterattack, be it nuclear or cyber. If they could inflict that kind of damage on the east coast or west coast or the heartland of the United States, I think they would do it in a moment. The only question is, can we be confident that no hacker exists within ISIS who has the capability, no hacker can be bought by the funds that ISIS has, no hacker is here in the United States?
I recently moderated a panel at a conference on cybersecurity with the FBI at Fordham University. On my panel, I had Keith Alexander, the former head of the NSA; the head of cybersecurity for the Israeli government; and a guy who is clearly a spook for the British and who is in charge of cybersecurity for the British mission to the U.N. There was no disagreement among the three of them that this is a likelihood — not just a possibility, but a likelihood. Am I saying it’s going to happen in the next year or two? No, but inevitably at some point, someone is going to get their hands on this kind of a capability. And when they do, it’s Katie, bar the door.
OR: Is there more that the government or industry could do to protect the grid? Or should the government really be focused on preparing for the aftermath?
Koppel: There is more that could be done. While I don’t believe that there can be a foolproof defense of the grid, I do believe that the grid could be far more effectively defended than it is being defended right now. Part of the problem is that the the electric power industry is absolutely and totally resistant to the notion of being re-regulated. They know, and they know because it’s worked out that way, that deregulation is better from an economic point of view for them. They not only make more money when the industry is deregulated, they are actually able to lower the price of electricity to their consumers, to us. It’s a win-win proposition.
But here we are victims of some of our own freedoms: the electric power industry, when government urges it to share information as quickly as possible, cites various issues. Legislation was passed in the Senate last September, I think it was, that is theoretically considered a step in that direction, the sharing of information. Here is how it works. The industry is permitted, first of all, to scrub the information that it is going to pass on to the government for privacy concerns. The industry says, “Hey, we have privacy issues, and we also have competitive issues. We don’t want this stuff out there because if our competitor knows that we’re under attack, that can be useful to the competitor, and they may actually be able then to use that to our further disadvantage and to their advantage.” They, under this legislation, have been given the right to scrub what they are going to pass on to the government. That takes time. Once they pass it to the government, which agency do they pass it to? The Department of Homeland Security, which is arguably the least effective bureaucracy in the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security then has the obligation of scrubbing this information even further, and once they’ve scrubbed it, then they pass it on to the NSA.
So we are taking days, possibly weeks to scrub this stuff for privacy concerns before it is passed on to the agency that can actually do something with it — the NSA. That’s the problem. Until disaster strikes, we are still going to be governed by the traditional concerns of privacy and competition that govern business in the United States and always have. Once disaster strikes, everyone is going to say, “Well, why didn’t you do something before?” They’re trying. They really are, and there is more cooperation now between government and industry than there has ever been in the past, but you still have a situation where no plan exists for the aftermath of an attack. You still have a situation where the experts are in agreement, except the executives of the massive power companies who will tell you, “No, no, no, we think we have adequate protection.” The experts in intelligence and the military will say, “No, they don’t.”
OR: Do you have a sense of what it would cost to address all these issues?
Koppel: No. But do you know how much we have spent on the TSA over the past 15 years? The TSA, as everyone knows, will check your bags and incoming cargo and all kinds of good stuff. When the Department of Homeland Security ran a test a year ago last spring on the effectiveness of the TSA and tried to get phony bombs and phony guns and ammunition through in their luggage, their success rate was 95 percent. That agency has cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion to date. That agency has 55,000 staff members. Do you think that the Congress is ever going to say, “Nah, they’re not terribly effective. They’re costing a lot of money. Let’s close it down. Okay, so we’ll have 55,000 people out of work. I can handle it, and I’m sure my constituents will not hold me to blame.” They’re there forever, and that’s $100 billion, but that was in the wake of 9/11.
If I suggested to you that Congress should allocate $100 billion for freeze-dried food and put it in storage, what do you think the chances are of that bill getting through before an attack? But after an attack? We’ll hear, “Why the hell didn’t anybody get this freeze-dried food? We’ve run out of MREs. Why the hell hasn’t anybody done anything about this?” Yet up until now with the Russian attack on the DNC, the subject of cybersecurity has not really been part of the political dialogue.
OR: Do you think Hillary Clinton will change that?
Koppel: I think Hillary Clinton definitely gets it. Trump doesn’t. I think she gets it, but it is incredibly difficult in this country to try and make the argument. I certainly couldn’t make it if I were running for public office. Don’t worry about people with suicide vests blowing themselves up. Don’t worry about some guy with a semi-automatic rifle and a thousand rounds of ammunition coming into your supermarket and blowing everybody away. Don’t worry about that — that’s trivial stuff compared to what can happen with a cyberattack on our infrastructure. Do you think I would be reelected on that platform? I don’t. People are genuinely scared of people blowing themselves up, people with knives, people with guns. I get it. I understand it. But we live in a culture in which 35,000 people a year are killed on our highways. Has that stopped us from driving? Hell, no.
That’s the way it is with the internet. We have become so dependent upon the internet, so determined to use the internet for almost everything that we do anymore, communication, transactions, banking, travel. Yet we don’t dare consider what would happen if somebody could knock it out.
Ted Koppel, a 42-year veteran of ABC News, was anchor and managing editor of Nightline from 1980 to 2005.