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Digital and solar storms, a disaster risk!

Digital and solar storms, a disaster risk!

In 2012, we have almost disappeared clueless of what would have become of our species or our planetary vessel, Earth. This apocalyptic scenario, already experienced but in a much lower magnitude in 1859 and which manifested itelf through a large aurora borealis, is the effect of a large solar flare.

According to NASA, a solar storm, observed very precisely by the Stereo-A satellite, skimmed the Earth on July 23, 2012. By disturbing the Earth’s magnetic field, this storm could have disturbed every electronic and electrical networks, that is to say all that links us to the Earth and connects us together and above all: generalized blackouts meaning standtill engines and machines: trains and boats motionless, factories paralyzed, traffic lights out of order…; Widespread electronic failures, as a result, planes grounded, satellites out of use, jammed GPS systems, mute control towers …

And this time, to draw an analogy with a vehicle, we would be in good health but in a vehicle that would not respond to any command and where all the hardware and software lights are off.

Aurora borealis or solar horror?

In the past, a strong aurora borealis, due to the great solar flare of 1859 known under the name of “The Event of Carrington”, had already affected the electrical networks at the time and in particular the telegraph, the main means of communication of the era. Damages that could be considered derisory today includes a very intense surge in electric currents which damaged several telegraphs, some even caught fire, as well as many reported cases of telegraph operators who suffered violent electric shocks.

The observed aurora borealis is only the visible part of the radiation caused by solar particles entering our atmosphere … Except that for this last storm, considered a serious threat by the Academy of American Sciences, would have cost billions of dollars and would have brought us back to the time of carts and horses. What a feeling to live the morning after the passage of such a solar hurricane and the leap into the past: welcome to the 18th century! And without the slightest preparation, we are back to the smoking pipes of steam engines, the gas lighting and hot air balloons crisscrossing our skies and farewell to the Airbus A380s and Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system… a real chaos due to the loss of the electric network, and the only remaining replacement option, albeit painful, is travelling few centuries backward.
But what about a total amnesia caused by the loss of mass digital data that will partially or totally paralyze all the nerves of our civilization. This last question is also considered seriously by some countries such as Switzerland, a pioneer in the gold storage and which has set out to safeguard personal data and protect them from a possible ionizing solar attack.

How to protect yourself?

Certainly the probability of a solar cyber attack occurrence is very low, neverthelss the risk is not zero. In an article published in the journal of Space Weather in February 2014, the physicist Peter Riley presented a predictive analysis of the risks for the occurrence of such event over the next ten years. The answer is summerized in a firghtening number: 12%, or about one in ten chance.
Solar activity is therefore a serious and topical issue. Large energy companies are working to secure their network. Airlines are already preparing, in the event of ionizing particles storms, alternative scenarios to readjust flight routes. Critical satellites failures are also being analysed and high resilience navigation and communication instruments are being implemented.
So, how to prepare for a universal cyber attack of this kind?

– Think about setting up redunduncy systems and database backups in well-secured underground spaces, especially for large networks and cirtical infrastructures such as the power network. Those backups must be designed ideally from hardened components (see Events section).
-Set up B plans for large cirtical networks such as electrical networks, that is to say alternative backup routes in the event of sudden shutdown of these sensitive networks. B plans should be setup usually by infrastructure administrators.
– Maintain a human team alongside humanoids and intelligent systems in order to take control in serious situations, particularly for managing large sensitive facilities such as nuclear power plants. And it is certain, with artificial intelligence, humans will lose the experience and expertise that one usually learns with various incidents over time. Unfortunately once the big intelligent systems are in trouble, we are sure to find ourselves in a unfavorable situation to face these great difficulties.

To conclude, in a recent article published in Lte magazinem in January 2020 issue entitled “The Big-Date Apocalypse of 2050”, we have already referred to an apocalyptic scenario of different magnitude in which we have detailed how the loss of data would impact states and the consequences that would follow.

By Ata-Ilah Khaouja and Ahmed Khaouja

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