I never carry a checkbook and seldom carry more cash than what I need to get a value meal at Burger King.
In fact, it is not uncommon for me to scrounge change out of the ash tray in my car just to have enough cash to buy a cup of coffee.
Years ago, I basically quit using cash in favor of credit cards. Credit cards are faster, easier and accepted just about everywhere (unlike $100 bills). Plus, at the end of every billing cycle, I get a detailed list showing exactly what I have purchased.
The convenience of credit cards makes them attractive not only to consumers, but to retailers as well. However, the resulting dependence on this form of electronic commerce is a disaster waiting to happen as I recently learned.
Two weeks ago, retail operations, along with other business activities in northern Gwinnett County, basically ground to a halt when Internet service was interrupted for several hours.
I learned about the outage when I went to the grocery store. Signs were plastered on the doors advising the Internet was down and no credit or debit cards could be used to make purchases – “cash or checks” only.
Of course I had no money with me and no checkbook, but it did not matter because I was at the store to drop off a prescription. Well, guess what? The pharmacy technician said they were unable to fill any prescriptions because they could not connect to their main server. Seriously folks – the meds were sitting right there on the shelves and the pharmacy could not dispense them because they had no Internet service.
At that point, I looked around and realized the store was practically empty. No one was at the checkout. No one was at the in-store bank branch. Employees were standing around chitchatting because the retail world had stopped spinning.
I should have realized there was a problem when I was at the doctor’s office and they could not access my billing records or print a detailed receipt because of a “computer problem.” At the time, I did not realize it was actually an Internet problem. Thank goodness they still keep actual medical charts at the office. One day, all of that will be digitized and then what will we do when there is a “computer problem”?
This outage which had such a crippling commercial impact on the area was not the result of a cyber attack or widespread computer virus, it was caused by a simple act of theft. Some idiot thief cut a fiber optic cable while trying to steal copper.
If a copper thief can shut down the Internet, imagine what a dedicated army of cyber warriors could actually do.
There has been a good deal of discussion over the past few months regarding whether or not the President of the United States should be able to shut down the Internet in the event of a cyber attack and what powers the federal government should have when it comes to protecting cyberspace.
Legislation, including the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, would give the government broad-reaching powers to combat what lawmakers rightfully describe as a national security threat.
After seeing what havoc a copper thief wrought, I am more inclined to look favorably at some of these bills or at least parts thereof.
Do I want the President to have a kill switch? No. Do I want reasonable, defensive measures implemented? Absolutely.
Just as Western pioneers protected themselves from outside threats, we need to circle the e-wagons to keep our Internet and computer dependent economy safe from attack. Failure to do anything less would be reckless negligence.
Kristi Reed is a reporter for the Barrow Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristi, you make several great points in your article. Our society has a dependency on technology, and with the technology come risks. Identity theft is a serious problem today, yet it was rare thirty years ago. Your pharmacy couldn't fill your prescription, but the software they use checks to make sure your prescription will not interact with another drug you may be taking and could potentially save your life. So we need this technology and it must be protected. Realistically, every business needs a backup plan for technology failure. Most small businesses choose not to have a backup plan because of cost or just lacks real-world experience about the pain an outage like you described can cause.