Breaking News in the Cyber World

It’s not news that technology – reliable technology, I might add – has become the very foundation on which we operate virtually every business on the planet these days, regardless of its size and function.

It becomes news, though, when the normally dependable technology fails us, AND affects not one but three icons of American commerce, AND happens on the same day. In a world where the new boogeyman is a cyber-thug, capable of taking down the entire economic infrastructure by infiltrating a few key networks, such an event tends to put us on edge.

So we were very much on edge for a while this past Wednesday when both United Airlines and the New York Stock Exchange were each forced out of commission for a few hours when their respective systems failed. While United Airlines cited a connectivity issue, the NYSE blamed their malfunction on a misconfiguration in a system update that took place the night before. A third major company, The Wall Street Journal, became part of the news story when its website was simply unavailable for some time, although that crash was probably influenced by a throng of users looking for answers relating to the other two events.

Based on reactions on Twitter, the idea that two completely unrelated issues could happen at two different companies at the same time must be the result of a coordinated cyber-attack. What else could it be? But, I contend that – while the simultaneous failures were no doubt inconvenient and troubling – it really isn’t shocking. In fact, to those of us who work in the world of IT, it was basically “just another day at the office.” To us, the idea that even 100 completely unrelated issues could hit 50 different companies in one day is completely normal.

What this does, though, is shine a light on the fact this is our world now. As we continue to develop our dependence on computers and more particularly, access to data, we are more likely to experience outages and interruptions like we saw a few days ago.

What strikes me, though, is that, because technology works so well the vast majority of the time, people are convinced that it will simply JUST WORK all of the time. Not so. The reality is that it takes teams of people working around the clock just to keep these systems operational. Mishaps, technological glitches, human error, and, yes, hacks, WILL happen from time to time. It’s simply the nature of the beast.

The real goal, then, is for us to be as vigilant as possible to minimize human error and address any systems-related issues BEFORE they become impactful to the business – and to the millions of people who rely on these businesses. In the end of the day, it’s just another day at the office.

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