Friday, July 5, 2013

Shocker!! I won Bruce Scheier's 6th "Movie-Plot Threat Contest"

I think the stopwatch on 15 minutes of fame just started.  From Bruce's blog:
For this year's contest, I want a cyberwar movie-plot threat [in 500 words or less]. (For those who don't know, a movie-plot threat is a scare story that would make a great movie plot, but is much too specific to build security policy around.) Not the Chinese attacking our power grid or shutting off 911 emergency services -- people are already scaring our legislators with that sort of stuff. I want something good, something no one has thought of before.
On May 15, I announced the five semi-finalists. Voting continued through the end of the month, and the winner is Russell Thomas, with this entry:  

It's November 2015 and the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) is underway in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Over the past year, ocean level rise has done permanent damage to critical infrastructure in Maldives, killing off tourism and sending the economy into freefall. The Small Island Developing States are demanding immediate relief from the Green Climate Fund, but action has been blocked. Conspiracy theories flourish. For months, the rhetoric between developed and developing countries has escalated to veiled and not-so-veiled threats. One person in elites of the Small Island Developing States sees an opportunity to force action.

He's Sayyid Abdullah bin Yahya, an Indonesian engineer and construction magnate with interests in Bahrain, Bangladesh, and Maldives, all directly threatened by recent sea level rise. Bin Yahya's firm installed industrial control systems on several flood control projects, including in the Maldives, but these projects are all stalled and unfinished for lack of financing. He also has a deep, abiding enmity against Holland and the Dutch people, rooted in the 1947 Rawagede massacre that killed his grandfather and father. Like many Muslims, he declared that he was personally insulted by Queen Beatrix's gift to the people of Indonesia on the 50th anniversary of the massacre -- a Friesian cow. "Very rude. That's part of the Dutch soul, this rudeness", he said at the time. Also like many Muslims, he became enraged and radicalized in 2005 when the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet.

Of all the EU nations, Holland is most vulnerable to rising sea levels. It has spent billions on extensive barriers and flood controls, including the massive Oosterscheldekering storm surge barrier, designed and built in the 80s to protect against a 10,000-year storm surge. While it was only used 24 times between 1986 and 2010, in the last two years the gates have been closed 46 times.

As the UNCCC conference began in November 2015, the Oosterscheldekering was closed yet again to hold off the surge of an early winter storm. Even against low expectations, the first day's meetings went very poorly. A radicalized and enraged delegation from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) presented an ultimatum, leading to denunciations and walkouts. "What can they do -- start a war?" asked the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment in an unguarded moment. There was talk of canceling the rest of the conference.

Overnight, there are a series of news stories in China, South America, and United States reporting malfunctions of dams that resulted in flash floods and death of tens or hundreds people in several cases. Web sites associated with the damns were all defaced with the text of the SIDS ultimatum. In the morning, all over Holland there were reports of malfunctions of control equipment associated with flood monitoring and control systems. The winter storm was peaking that day with an expected surge of 7 meters (22 feet), larger than the Great Flood of 1953. With the Oosterscheldekering working normally, this is no worry. But at 10:43am, the storm gates unexpectedly open.  
It was fun to write.  I did it as a creative diversion one day when I was too tired to do my academic work.  But I did make some mistakes and a few sloppy choices, which some critics pointed out.  Here's my reply, again quoted from Bruce's site:

Yes, I made a factual error regarding the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Its is Danish, not Dutch. Sorry about that.
Yes, there were a few passages that were clumsy, including "...many muslims...". Sorry about that. I wasn't really aiming to have the plot center on anti-western muslims. I should have cut the cartoon reference out. With another revision, I'd put more attention on how this new opportunistic alliance formed and was radicalized because they share a belief that then have been repeatedly victimized and marginalized.
Regarding "web sites associated with dams", that's just a reference to informational web pages that many public works departments provide, such as this: This was suggesting simple defacement. I certainly wasn't implying any attack on control systems through it's web site.
Regarding technical means in general, I made a conscious choice not to be very specific about the technical aspects of the "cyber war". In a way, that is the least interesting and least important. What would make it a "war" is the will and capability of the adversarial parties to do maximum damage to each other, or at least severe damage, by electronic and digital means.
Regarding the word count, I'm probably guilty. I remember editing it repeatedly to get under the word count limit.
We'll see if my agent gets any calls from Hollywood on this.

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