How to tell if you’re experiencing a cyber attack, an EMP, or a solar flare

This speculation became fast and furious when AT&T’s cell phone network went down recently.governor of florida Ron DeSantis (R) suggested it could be EMP.florida state senator Marco Rubio hints at Chinese cyber attack.others claimed that due to solar flares. AT&T’s official explanation was: Software update failed.

How can you tell the difference between an EMP, a solar storm, a cyber attack, or human error? I’ve been researching these topics for the past few years. Recently, Substack not ready. I am also a general class amateur radio operator, which requires knowledge of radio waves and solar activity. Let’s walk through each of these scenarios at a level that you can understand, regardless of your technical level.

in short:

  • If one service or several related services go down, it is most likely due to human activity, i.e. an error or a cyber-attack.
  • If you experience a major interruption in power service, it’s likely an EMP or solar power event.

What are the signs of EMP?

EMP stands for electromagnetic pulse. Technically speaking, small EMPs occur every day and cause small nuisances such as interference with radio signals and electrical problems in your car. For simplicity, we will focus on the large EMPs that appear in apocalyptic novels such as William R. Forstchen’s One Second After.

A major EMP is one of the most exaggerated preparedness scenarios. I say this for two reasons.

  • Those are incredibly rare occurrences.
  • It is virtually impossible to prepare for them.

In the simplest terms, an EMP involves sending hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity through the air like radio waves. Like radio waves, EMPs are attracted to things that act as antennas. Think of a long wire like a power line. That surge of electricity flows through power lines, wreaking havoc on power lines, transformers, your home’s electrical system, and anything else the electricity passes through. Contrary to popular belief, small electronic devices that are not connected to an electrical outlet unlikely to be affected.

There’s a lot of talk about EMP weapons in the news and fiction.For example, China Possibly has first strike EMP capabilities. But in reality, there are only two types of events known to cause the kind of EMP that people fear.

  • Severe solar storm. The most famous example is his 1859. Carrington Event, it disrupted the telegraph system and even shocked some carriers. Interestingly, many telegraphers communicated using only storm currents as power.
  • Extremely powerful nuclear weapons. Starfish Prime, the US high-altitude atomic explosion test, produced the most notable man-made EMP. The 1.4-megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead exploded about 400 miles above Hawaii, 900 miles away. The resulting EMP blew up about 300 street lights in Hawaii, set off burglar alarms, and damaged telephone company microwave links that cut off calls between the Hawaiian islands.

EMP is poorly understood because there is no way to responsibly test its effects at scale. And their effects are as unpredictable as tornadoes and other forces of nature.

However, please know this. EMP is very nasty. It’s not just one or two services. That would mean large-scale power outages, blackouts, and other abnormal events.your car Most of the power goes into radio towers and power lines, which act like giant antennas, so other small electronics are probably fine.

Realistically, sooner or later another Carrington event will occur and it will cause severe damage in the billions or trillions of dollars. According to the London insurance company Lloyds. And we, as a society, are ill-prepared for it.

What are the signs that a solar storm will calm down?

The Carrington phenomenon was particularly noteworthy, but what about other solar phenomena?

Solar activity has a major impact on wireless communications. The sun moves between solar minimum and solar maximum during her 11-year cycle, which changes the way radio waves propagate in Earth’s ionosphere. In general, radio waves propagate best during periods of maximum solar activity. what we are transitioning to nowbut it also increases destructive events like sunspots and solar flares.

Solar flares are essentially farts from the sun that send large amounts of energy to Earth and can disrupt communications systems such as satellites. A few things like this have happened recently, Probably not responsible for AT&T’s outage. Solar flares are smaller and faster than coronal mass ejections like the Carrington phenomenon mentioned above.

Here’s more about solar flares and other solar weather: They happen all the time, but fortunately you don’t notice it.You can register for federal services Space weather forecast email Get notified every time there is a small solar storm. There are a lot of storms out there, but after a few weeks of receiving these emails, you’ll realize that even “major” storms aren’t that big of a deal to most people. In 2023, we experienced: Strongest solar storm in the past 10 yearsYou probably didn’t notice.

The most notable space weather incident in recent memory was caused by SpaceX. 40 satellites lost Unknowingly, you are dragging them into a solar storm.Solar storms can also affect things on Earth: Storm of 1989 caused power outages in Quebec.

of The system most sensitive to solar weather is GPSThis is because the satellite is in space and the signal to Earth is somewhat weak anyway.flat Mild solar events can confuse GPS.

in short:

  • Solar storms occur all the time, but we usually don’t notice them.
  • They can disrupt various electronic systems, sometimes in subtle ways.
  • Like EMPs, their effects are largely unpredictable (and in reality, they are just small EMPs).

What are the signs of a cyber attack (or human error)?

We group cyber-attacks and human errors together because there is not much difference for the end user. In any case, the service fails due to human stupidity. EMP would be a large and troublesome event. Cyberattacks tend to be more targeted.

In the past, cyberattacks were carried out by lone hackers just having fun. A notorious example is 1988. morris worm, which destroyed much of the early Internet. Today, the stakes are much higher. Computer security has become more advanced and getting caught has serious consequences and a lot of money is at stake. As such, most cyberattacks are carried out by criminal networks or, less frequently, nation states. Both are fairly common.

The most common form of cyberattack these days is known as ransomware. Usually some poor sap clicks on a phishing link and gets malware installed on their computer and starts encrypting their data. Users are then told that if they pay the ransom in cryptocurrency, they will be given a key to decrypt their files. These are elaborate operations, and there is a lot of money flowing into the ransomware business. Typical ransoms are over $200,000, with many running into the millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, such ransomware attacks occur on a daily basis. At the end of 2023, Attack on Ardent Health Services disrupts 30 hospitals in six states. To make matters worse, hostile nation states such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia often collaborate with criminal networks to perpetuate cyberattacks. One example of a nation-state cyberattack is recent. Intrusion into UnitedHealth Group, closed pharmacies across the country, but it was not clear which country was responsible for the suspected attack. 2015 Human resources management office This breach is believed to have been carried out by China.

In any case, cyberattacks are almost always highly targeted. One service may go down, but the lights stay on and planes don’t start falling from the sky. However, what can be confusing is that when a service goes down, it often puts a strain on other services. For example, when AT&T was shut down for the following reasons: 2020 Nashville Christmas Bombinghere in Middle Tennessee, the Verizon network was also disrupted.

Final note: Please note the following data. down detector, a site that tracks online service outages. This is a useful tool, but it often looks much worse than it actually is.