Idiots' guide to technology

Richard Shotton, of Zenith Optimedia, showed me an article in The New Yorker.

It told how the Russians hacked the Nato computer network in Kabul.

The Pentagon believed this network was impenetrable.

They’d made sure there was no way in could be attacked.

It had the most sophisticated electronic gateways, the kind of technological barriers I don’t even know the correct words for.

This system simply couldn’t be penetrated over the Internet.

So the Russians didn’t even try.

They simply put a virus onto a plain-old basic thumb drive.

Then they copied off dozens of thumb drives.

Then they placed them on the racks in the kiosks on the streets outside Nato headquarters.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before someone from inside bought a thumb drive.

Then took it back into Nato headquarters.

Then unwrapped the packaging and inserted it into a computer.

And that was that.

The virus was now inside the sophisticated "impenetrable" Nato network.

They’d been hacked.

Not the way you see on Mission Impossible.

Not by a team of geniuses who understood how computers work.

But by someone who understood how human beings work.

A thumb drive in a kiosk on the street isn’t part of high-tech world of computer hacking, it’s just shopping.

So the computer hackers didn’t have to penetrate Nato's defences.

They didn’t even have to let the kiosk owners know what they were doing.

They just placed the thumb drives on the racks over the existing ones.

The locals don’t buy new thumb drives, they’re too expensive.

The only people who buy brand new thumb drives are the Americans.

So they filled up the local kiosks with thumb drives and waited for an American to carry one into Nato headquarters.

Then, once the thumb drive was inside, the virus spread and instructed the Nato system to forward secret information to Russian computers.

This wasn’t discovered until 2008 by the NSA in an operation codenamed "Buckshot Yankee".

As usual, the weakness was a total over-reliance on technology.

As usual, that blindness became the major problem.

A blind belief in technology is the Achilles heel of the lazy.

The latest crutch to hold onto to avoid having to think.

Because technology’s greatest weakness is that it stops us thinking.

Which was exactly where Nato left themselves exposed.

It proves that you can’t replace brains with technology.

The Russians will never be as rich as the Americans so they had to get creative.

As Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, said: "We have no money so we shall have to think".

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

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