Civilization has risen, and we are now more evolved than ever. We have started to create a connected world, with intelligent systems everywhere.
But how hard would it be to make it collapse?
"What would it take, to takedown our current civilization?"
Interestingly, our societies are working on basic principles as many emergent systems.
There are reward systems, like money that direct the efforts of its parts. Societies tend to encourage people to get more. The main problem is that the reward system is pitting people against each other, and working against long-term global interests. For example, money is provided by entities with opposite goals1 2 3
Societies need also like any organism a source of energy to function correctly. It can be seen in food, water supply or electricity generators.
"No reward, no structure, no system"
Taking down the reward system or the various base resources for our civilization to function would create immense chaos, but also the collapse of many emerging properties. Everything which is preventing people from reaching instilled goals will also generate confusion. The reward system quite often manipulates the purposes of people. We are usually quite limited by our biology, our desire and our needs.
The brain is using dopamine. A society, to create an emergent property needs to trigger such a system for specific actions in the form of money flow, fame and power. It will encourage people to act toward it. An example is how social networks work by inciting us to use them more.1
Reward systems are more and more using information technologies to work, banking systems, social networks, market place and so on.
We are automating everything, with interconnected systems, which makes them potential targets for cyber-attack. Viruses can now propagate to more than traditional computers, and any device in the grid system can be prey. In 2016 a lot of websites went down due to an attack from infected security cameras1.
These systems are often built by firms that don't care much about the security of their products. Reducing costs is often damageable to security. Quick development often leads to inadequate product quality and encourages skipping cybersecurity tests.
It is interesting because this is a direct effect of money as a reward system, to increase the reward in the short term, sacrificing quality control and safeguards is an adequate solution.
We find new security breaches in the Internet of Things, in connected cars, etc. From power plants to connected toys, all these systems are targeted and can be used later as vectors for more potent attacks against critical systems. Furthermore, we reach the point where it allows for physical damage, something that was hard to reach before.
"States already opened the way"
We already have examples of cyber weapons used in the past by governments.
Stuxnet was aiming at an Iranian enrichment uranium facility, destroying centrifuges. Gauss has been used against the banking information systems of some countries, Flame which has been qualified by some as super cyber-weapons is an incredible spying tool, etc.1 2 3
Some of them were roaming free for several years before being discovered. Their purpose was to infect computers without direct connection through USB sticks, target particular systems or information, and resourceful governments backed them.
Stuxnet was aiming at industrial control systems, the kind of components used everywhere from factories to power plants. It gives an insight into what someone can do.
When you see how hard it has been to spot the precedent ones, it is frightening to think about what could be lurking out there. Especially when some source code like the Flame one, seems to hint at some other creatures are already freed.
Governments and military alliances are not going to take the risk of destroying themselves so, we can consider their cyber weapons kind of safe.
A group or organization that doesn't need to take care of not destroying everything could cause a lot of trouble. Creating cyber weapons is requiring a lot of people with a lot of knowledge and a lot of time. Some of the previously stated viruses cost around 100M$.
But it is perhaps not necessary to create one from scratch. It is possible to steal or retrieve cyber weapons and build on top of them.1
It is a risk, I think, which will be growing. We already have seen recently factories taken down by relatively simple ransomware.1
With all these capacities, it is possible to imagine strategies, that would take hostage, some critical part of our civilization without casualties but forcing everyone to sit around the table to put things straight. A worst case would be a terror attack that could disable power grids, destroy economies and more.
We are relying more and more on interconnected systems, and by doing so we are exposing critical parts to malicious parties.
"Taking down our civilization seems hard, and we are building with time all the things we need to do it."
Update: It seems that in light of recent events we have moved forwards with an NSA-stolen cyberweapon that backslashed to high level of damage.1