back to article Cyber-terror: How real is the threat? Squirrels are more of a danger

The UK Chancellor George Osborne last week announced that the British government plans to double cybersecurity spending and establish a single National Cyber Centre. Cybersecurity spending will rise to £1.9bn ($2.87bn) at a time of budget cuts to police and other government departments. More details are expected to come in the …

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It's all about the blinky lights

If it blinks, then it's important. If it doesn't blink, it isn't important. That's why prevention against rodents gets zero funding, and non-existent cyber threats get lots of funding. Cyber threats mean blinky lights. Squirrels, not so much.

(When I worked at a giant Redmond company, a squirrel did, in fact, chew its way into a power conduit and take out the power to our building. The power was out for several hours.)

However, cybersecurity should be targeting data leaching by criminals. What's our success against that? From reading the news, not so much. A lot of the problem is with developers who don't care about security at all. I recently quit a job, where, really, the lead dev scoffed both at testing his software and implementing security. Yes, truly!

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Squirrels are also really fond of chewing on fibre cables. I've seen more than one outage caused by a squirrel.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Just last week we had to stuff tubes with wire wool to stop rats from gnawing through any more fibre shielding. That's only a stopgap measure and the exterminator won't be able to kill all of the little fuckers forever, so we'll have to splash out on armoured cabling before long.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

However, cybersecurity should be targeting data leaching by criminals. What's our success against that? From reading the news, not so much.

It's all about feel good and it will get them more budget money by invoking the Daesh after the Paris attack. As the article mentions, these type of attacks could be outsourced.. to the crims. If they actually targeted the crims, we all could breathe easier knowing our bank accounts were safer but there's more press invoking the Daesh and some vague cyber-threat.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

> our bank accounts were safer

As long as central banks exist, no.

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Joke

Re: It's all about the blinky lights

The machines should also go "PING" from time to time, of coruse

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

we'll have to splash out on armoured cabling

Armoured cabling? How very passé. Surely the best solution would be armed guards in the basement to shoot the little buggers when they get in, a new listening post to detect any rodents in the area that might have a taste for PVC, and a major extermination offensive to bomb all rat nests within 20 miles?

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

How about we create a massive database of all rats, take DNA samples, issue them with RFID cards, put CCTV on every sewer corner and hire an array of analysts to model the mass behaviour of all rats, from cradle to grave?

Surely that way we'd be able to spot the particular rats that chew on your cables?

Might cost a few bob, but totally worth it...

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g e

More about creating a 'Cyber defence structure'

You know, with network taps and fuckloads of buffered data storage with machine AI flagging and xrefing shit for you...

Coupled with backdoored encryption, natch.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Innovative chemistry is the answer here. All we really need do is add a chemical that tastes absolutely appallingly vile to the cable insulation (and believe it or not, there are chemicals known as stenching agents that are certified to do just this) and together with a distinctive odourant, we have a way of teaching rodents not to chew cables.

Or more exactly, a way to teach rodents not to chew cables thus protected, thus turning them to our less-innovative competitors' cables...

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Coat

Re: It's all about the blinky lights

@Rich.

I solved our rat/mice problem by getting a company cat. We even claimed the VAT back on its food.

p.s. I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

A cat took out our local substation, which is when we learned how long our UPS would keep the servers running (answer: not long enough). Leastways they thought it was a cat, going by the crispy burnt bits left when it got into the 11kV busbars...

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Childcatcher

Education

No, bombing them won't help anything, a campaign of education is needed to de-radicalise these rats and direct them towards safer outlets for their aggression.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Adding such a chemical is only (at best) a stopgap measure.

Those darn critters have developed resistance to god knows how many different 'rat killer' chemicals.

They'll soon start trating it as a nice little snack.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

You can just find teams of adventurers on their tutorial level and send them down to deal with the rats. A simple, classic, solution.

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Re: Education

Are these 'safer outlets' 230v?

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Tabasco. Or related super hot chilli

Rats, Mice etc can't stand it. Only humans eat it.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

I solved our rat/mice problem by getting a company cat. We even claimed the VAT back on its food.

No joke. Two cats are important members of our team in a very small development data centre. Their sister does sterling work in our house. Very popular players. And yes, we also get VAT back on food, vets and claim them as a valid expense. We were pulled up by HMRC on this about 2 years ago (a fractional part of a fractional part of 1% of our turnover - but at least HMRC were reading the returns.......)

ps - no cute cat icon?

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Squirrels also cause havoc in electrical substations - they like to snuggle up to the big warm buzzy thing, but they only get to do that once and usually trip the breakers after getting 25+kV where 25+kV isn't meant to go (i.e. any part of the squirrel).

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Wrong. I used to live in the W Midlands - local mice poo-ed curry pellets; I guess they adapt to what is easily available.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's all about the blinky lights

My money's on poison gas, shooting would require too many skilled marksmen.

For a primer, check out this wonderful duet performance by the Flight of the Conchords

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IPAOxrH7Ro

Although the target wasn't rats or squirrels ....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's all about the blinky lights

I have a bad feeling about this chew-protected cabling. Nature tends to adopt, and rats particularly quickly. How fast will they evolve into passionate fans of this particular dis-taste?

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Inovative Chemistry...

A similar method could be used against the jihadists...

Spray all their food sources with a chemically reduced form of bacon. I bet blowing oneself up for the cause, won't seem like such a good idea, when their ticket to the afterlife country club is revoked by their own anti-pig bias.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Actually the solution is way easier than armed guards.

Get some popcorn, toss it on the floor around mice traps. On the mouse trap, glue some hard candy to the trigger pad. The mice eat the popcorn and go straight for the candy.

Don't want all that mess? There is an even cheaper & simpler solution.

OATS + Plaster of Paris (or powdered drywall paste or cement powder).

Take your bag of oats, mix with powder-to-rock at a 50% ratio. Place in an open, dry location.

Mice eat the oats, gobble up the powder-to-rock dust, their guts turn into concrete, they usually die less then 10 feet from the bait location. Just add more oats and mix when the oats run low. 100% environmentally friendly, inexpensive, reusable, does not poison predator animals.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Symon: "I solved our rat/mice problem by getting a company cat. We even claimed the VAT back on its food."

I know a kitty cat that likes to pee sideways on walls to mark territory.

Kitty cat decides to mark the server rack... BZZZT... just don't whizz, please don't whizz, on the electric fence... BBBBBZZZZZZZTTTTTT... (sounds of cat being electrocuted as the server racks of the company go down)

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

No luck here with the super hot chili - raccoons and red squirrels not discouraged at all. Physical interdiction far more effective, and satisfying.

edit: I shall try the oats & cement powder .

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights - Innovative chemistry is the answer here.

BICC and others have made PTFE insulated cables for ages that deter termites, rodents and cockroaches. I remember ordering them for equipment to go to India and Africa back in the early 1980s.

One advantage is that if anything does manage to chew through cables and they touch, the resulting heat produces enough fluorine to kill the perpetrator right there and identifies the particular agent responsible.

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

Actually, it's more about "jobs for the boys" as usual. The usual suspects will be invited to bid for the Billions - anyone with any actual ability or experience will be excluded. It'll just be yet another inordinately expensive Government IT failure and lots of people will line their pockets for doing little or nothing!

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Re: It's all about the blinky lights

In about 1989, a friend of mine worked for a mainframe bureau in the east end of London. He told me the saga of the manager who came up with the solution to their insulation-gnawing short-circuit-causing rat problem: he went out and caught a gnarled scar-riddled old bruiser of an alley cat and let him loose in the elderly basement which housed the 'frame and its miles of ducted copper. Soon all the rats were either dead or in a state of shocked hiding - Old Moggy has slaughtered all of those who couldn't escape in time. Unfortunately, he caused an even greater problem by marking his territory, especially in the wiring ducts; there are few substances more conductive of electricity than cat piss.

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Furry buggers

Like to chew on our phone line, I doubt we will see the same problems with the medievel terror bastards of ISIS/ISIl/DAESH etc.

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Re: Furry buggers

The people of <insert any middle east country here>stan have to dress up their women in giant tarps so they can avoid being raped constantly. And this is in a wacked-out country which is only church+state. Religion, so full of pride and bullshit all at once.

Thanks to El Reg for hipping me to the squirrel-threat-actors!

For the NSA: The squirrels are coming for you. They're coming...

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Re: Furry buggers

In honour of the Randall Munroe interview here, Squirrelphone.

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One would hope that control systems for nuclear reactors aren't directly connected to the Internet. Nor our military command and control systems at Northwood. One could be wrong, of course.

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Yeah, one would hope that the powers that be aren't complete fucking idiots. Alas, that hope is a bit optimistic.

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Typically the reactor control systems are either going to be old PDP and System/360 boxes or just tiny purpose-built clusters of transistors and logic chips. Its rare to see a Nuke plant with TCP/IP running, let alone anything even remotely connected to the internet.

Some plants will have regular desktops scattered about for use by the Reactor Control staff, but those don't do anything all that important and are usually there for recreation and communicating between staff and sometimes between the plant and the utility operators.

But even if the plants get hacked, the technicians are still there monitoring everything via mechanical gauges and have the ability to switch over to purely manual control.

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Well if unplugging them can save billions

Just unplug them.

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Anonymous Coward

"Typically the reactor control systems are either going to be old PDP and System/360 boxes or just tiny purpose-built clusters of transistors and logic chips."

Historically correct, but it's not been applicable in recently built setups. Even in the 1990s commercial computer stuff was being proposed for monitoring systems in the UK (*not* for control systems) by outfits like Ferranti (who rather inconveniently went bust during the procurement process for the Magnox refurb).

Jim Austin (Professor of Computer Science at York) has a private computer collection which includes some original-style systems from a nuclear power station.

http://www.computermuseum.org.uk/

In the News:

"12 June 2010

The Marcconi Transistorised Automatic Computer (TAC) has arrived. This machine ran from 1966 for 38 years in Wyfla nuclear power station on Anglesey."

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A Russian guy I met in Israel told me he'd seen a nuclear reactor in the USSR controlled by a pneumatic computer, with all the gate functions realised by compressed air. Filled a room, noisy as hell, got round reliability problems using redundancy and majority voting to the point where a faulty module could be found and replaced while it was running the program without interruption.

Why bother? You don't get anything more rad-hard than something with no electronics in it at all...

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"Historically correct, but it's not been applicable in recently built setups"

My experience with such systems is US-based plants, so anything deployed is going to be from the TMI / Chernobyl days and would have those old systems. Of course there are much more modern plants around (In the US, they would have had to have been built and complete between the time that Americans forgot about TMI but before Fuck-up-shima was mismanaged into slag.

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SGJ

Cyber Security at Civil Nuclear Facilities Understanding the Risks

A recent report from Chatham House is an interesting but scary read.

https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/field/field_document/20151005CyberSecurityNuclearBaylonBruntLivingstone.pdf

Findings, based on research which included interviews with industry practitioners, include the following gems:

"... nuclear plants may lack preparedness for a large-scale cyber security emergency, particularly if one were to occur outside normal working hours."

"A large-scale cyber security emergency occurring at night could be particularly dangerous."

"Often, nuclear facilities will have undocumented connections to the internet (i.e. connections of which the plant managers or owner-operators are unaware); these too can provide potential pathways through which malware can infect a nuclear facility."

"... network diagrams of nuclear facilities that map out existing connections are frequently incorrect; there are often a number of additional connections that have not been documented."

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Anonymous Coward

What a Cock-Up

All of London's road Tunnel control systems are completely open to the 'net. You want to cause chaos? Close the tunnels for a few minutes at peak times. It takes the whole day to recover and the economic effects will be far worse than could be achieved with any bomb.

The management of TfL have been warned about it, but they don't understand the risks - "if it's IP it must be good"..............

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A Russian guy I met in Israel told me he'd seen a nuclear reactor in the USSR controlled by a pneumatic computer

A computer you can literally patch with duct tape - I love it!

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Judging by the reports of SCADA kit being exposed to the net skiddies would be as much of a threat as anything.

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SCADA kit with an unpatched, default OS install that was never intended to connect to a network. I saw this happening with VAXes over 20 years ago, and as good as VMS was back then, it still had occasional nasties in the TCP/IP stack - UCX, Multinet, TCPWare, it didn't matter.

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Cyber attacks are demonstrated.

Because Stuxnet.

I agree that Daesh / ISIL doesn't have the skill set to play at the level. And they won't get there -- their focus is sensational bloodletting, not cutting power to Liverpool.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cyber attacks are demonstrated.

Cutting power to Liverpool would lead to sensational blood letting - especially if there is a league game that day.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Spider attacks are demonstrated.

I prefer the substitution of "spider" for "cyber" in any and all documents,

it immediately allows you to judge rationally just how made-up is the document

after all, especially in the autumn, many homes suffer spider-attacks, leading to an increasing need for spider-defences and improved spider-security; but I haven't yet met any spider-jihadis even after living in batshit mad Saudi Arabia for several years

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Re: Cyber attacks are demonstrated.

So are suicide squirrel attacks.

One of them managed to trigger a cascade failure that took out most of the USA east coast power grid for several hours.

If a squirrel can manage that, just imagine what a platoon of suitably indoctrinated IS recruits might accomplish by immolating themselves on our power lines.

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Re: Cyber attacks are demonstrated.

Cutting power to Liverpool would lead to sensational blood letting - especially if there is a league game that day.

Tinned beer and battery radios to the rescue. Liverpool has disaster recovery in place!

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Re: Spider attacks are demonstrated.

"I prefer the substitution of "spider" for "cyber" in any and all documents"

My council IT dept. was called out for months when the security system in the server room tripped. It turned out to be a beetle (not a Beatle) making it's home in the warm sensor.

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