System failures

Dear President Trump,

It’s late – after 9pm and I’m only now getting to your letter. There’s no good reason for such a late start; we didn’t do anything particularly fun this evening or out of the ordinary. We just went and got our usual Friday night Vietnamese food, did the grocery shopping, and walked the dogs, all of which somehow led to the evening getting away from me. Plus, I’m really tired. Between the bad cold I’ve got and having been alerted 7 (!) times overnight about the 911 outage, I didn’t get much sleep. I also think knowing the 911 system wasn’t working made it harder to sleep. I’m not sure how long the system was down, but I think it was a matter of many hours and not just a few minutes, which is really quite scary.

I didn’t used to be someone who immediately wondered whether a malicious actor was to blame when big systems like 911 go down, but I can now officially say that this was one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when the initial alert came through. Ditto for the Con Edison transformer blowout in NYC last night. Sadly, it really doesn’t seem far fetched anymore that quite a few foreign adversaries could pretty easily sabotage big chunks of our electrical grid, nuclear power plants, dams, air traffic control systems, electronic medical records, voting machines, 911 call and dispatch systems, ATMs and credit card readers, and stock trading software. There are probably other big interconnected systems I’m not thinking of that are also at risk, but you get the idea. Even though Vladimir seems pretty jazzed about his supersonic nuclear missile, my bet is that neither Russia nor China need ever launch another missile – they could almost certainly use malware to cripple us with massive system failures. Of course if they can do it to us, we can do it to them so we are probably, collectively, fairly safe from full scale attacks of this nature.

But still, I wonder what really happened last night with those two big mess-ups. And I wonder whether you paid them even a tiny bit of attention. If you did, did you just shrug and say something like “oh well, I could care less if New York is blown off the map and the 911-thing is mostly affecting states that didn’t vote for me so no biggie.”

May we be safe and when we aren’t, may we be able to call for help.
May we be grateful when systems are working as they should.
May we take good care of our health.
May we evolve so that we have real rather than deterrent peace.

Tracy Simpson

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