tymshft

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Are we more vulnerable than the Ingalls family on the prairie?

The Ingalls family, immortalized in a series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, had it rough. If a disaster struck the family during a long winter, they couldn’t just dial up 911 and get relief. If one of the Ingalls kids was going blind, they couldn’t consult WebMD or Skype the Mayo Clinic.

But they did have advantages over us.

If they were sitting at home one night, reading, they didn’t have to worry about a virus sweeping through the home and stealing everything that they – and their neighbors – own. But we have to worry about such things.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.

The team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called Chameleon, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

And while the Ingalls family could be snowed in, or perhaps blown away by a tornado, they wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with a geomagnetic storm that could cripple millions of people:

Geomagnetic storms can occur with little warning. The worst geomagnetic storms are the result of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in which billions of tons of highly charged particles from the sun’s surface shoot into space toward the Earth and disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field. A geomagnetic storm would reach Earth between fourteen and ninety-six hours, leaving little time to safeguard critical infrastructure after a CME has been detected. NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, located a million miles from Earth, can give a 30-minutes first-warning on the severity of an incoming geomagnetic storm.

A geomagnetic storm disrupts the Earth’s magnetic field by producing geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) on the Earth’s surface, which can enter the power grid at transformer stations and move along power lines, disrupting normal operations. Wild fluctuations in voltage across power lines could cause power failure as relays try to isolate vulnerable equipment. High-voltage transformers could become overloaded and overheat, leading to permanent damage. Old high-voltage transformers nearing the end of their service lives are most vulnerable.

“Pa, the geomagnetic storm’s coming in! Secure the candles!”

“I can’t do that right now, Ma. I have to go down to the bank and find out why all our money is in China!”

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