Here is news that won’t stop the presses. We live in an age of hype. Every new product is THE NEXT BIG THING (even if it’s nothing more than a different flavor of energy drink). Stores advertise their greatest one day sales ever—once a month — and their going out of business sales (until their next “going out of business” sale). And, every hit movie or play is, of course, the best ever.
So, I can anticipate the eye rolling that ensued when I used “coming Cyber Crash” in the headline. It sure sounds like I could be engaging in hype.
I am not.
Just the other day, Andrew Haldane, Bank of England’s director of financial stability, said cyber attacks have risen to the top of the list of threats to UK banks, meaning it is a greater problem than the Eurozone crisis. And as our daily headlines here at home show it is a national problem in the U.S and a local one. (Your bank is a constant target and so are your brokerage accounts.)
As news of major cyber breaches roll in like waves on a storm-eroded beach, the likelihood increases that the next war we fight will be waged on computers aimed at crippling the systems that keep the wheels of government and daily life turning.
Again, that is not me engaging in hyperbole. It is just me paraphrasing a man who ran both the Department of Defense and the CIA.
“There’s a strong likelihood that the next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber-attack, said Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense and former director of the CIA.
That said, do you think government or business is really prepared? Based upon the number of government breaches announced over the past few years, it’s clear they aren’t ready. In a recent article I read, a significant number of businesses couldn’t even tell when they were breached or what information had been compromised.
So, clearly if they’re not ready, you aren’t either. Like Superstorm Sandy, which we saw coming, but we didn’t really see coming — you need to prepare for the worst.
Here are three things you should do.
1. Print and store it.
Gather personally identifiable documents, make copies and place them in sealed, waterproof plastic bags, and store them in more than one secure place like a safe at your house as well as another location you can access in an emergency. Again, password-protected, encrypted portable drives are critical. Documents to include: If a hacker brings down your bank’s website, or the entire electrical grid, you need the paper documents to prove what’s rightfully yours. Regularly print out your checking, savings and credit card account transaction information and a recent credit report. Keep scans or equivalent documents on a password-protected encrypted thumb drive. This stuff may well come in handy when power is restored.
2. Think like a prepper.
I’m not saying that everyone should go out and buy a gas mask, survival axe and walkie-talkies. But having emergency basics including candles and matches is always a good idea. FEMA recommends keeping enough food to last your family two weeks. A cache of cash is also a good idea (ATM networks could go down, too.)
A place where the Preppers and I differ is I am willing to work with my fellow man, in case of emergency. Rather than stocking the basement full of food, guns and ammo, an alternative is to come together as a community. Together you can strategize ways to get the food and water you need, and protect the neighborhood from looters. (After all, even the best prepped prepper occasionally needs sleep.)
3. Demand More From Government
It’s not controversial, complicated or partisan. A unified security standard for every nuclear power plant, drinking water plant and subway system is just common sense. The cyber-security law failed last year due to a combination of cynical obstructionism and correctable flaws in the legislation. Let’s try to finally get one passed, shall we. Call, write, email and tweet your representatives in Washington. Urge them not to make the same mistake twice.
After all, the best way to prepare for a cyber-crash is not to have one.
First published on Forbes.com