Let me simply toss this statement out there.
A Black Swan Event could freeze commerce nationwide in a matter of a few short hours.
Have you ever heard of a Black Swan Event?
If no, you'll want to read this special Survival Scout report while asking yourself this:
What would you do if you couldn't use your credit cards or access your bank accounts to acquire cash?
What if all ATMs and credit cards stopped working cutting off access to cash?
Imagine that a major financial institution is hacked. With the growing prominence of cyber-attacks, this is not a hard scenario to envision.
If that happened, there are some disturbing events that would likely follow.
A BLACK SWAN EVENT IS LIKELY, BUT NOT WELL-KNOWN
Imagine that you awaken to the news that a major financial institution is hacked, taking the network that supports credit card sales and other transactions offline. These days, most financial transactions involve using computer systems. People have grown used to swiping cards daily to purchase basic necessities. Most pay bills and bank online. Shut down these systems nationwide and you have a Black Swan event.
What would you do if suddenly your credit or debit card was rendered useless and your cash on hand was about $20? How long could you or your family last if you couldn't purchase food or if grocery stores were cleaned out in a panic?
It's been said that most people are only four missed meals away from chaos.
A Black Swan event is a large-scale event that has huge impacts, but seems to come out of nowhere. The term was coined in the 2007 book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Black Swan events that have had tremendous consequences for our lives include the terrorist attacks on 9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis that led to the recent Great Recession. When Black Swan events happened, our nation was unprepared.
Hackers are stealing information daily
Increasingly, Black Swan events include cyber-attacks.
The recent hack of the Democratic National Convention, which some believe was carried out by Russia, has given rise to larger concerns about the security of networks and information in both the private and public sector. Nations are worried about enemies using hacking for intelligence-gathering or terrorism, hoping to disrupt financial or governmental institutions by interfering with data, servers, or other computer-based operations.
In the private sector, cyber-attacks have resulted in hackers gaining access to consumer data such as credit card numbers and account passwords. Hackers have forced companies offline, causing loss in profits, reputation, and consumer trust.
Target TM was the victim of hackers who accessed credit card information of up to 40 million customers. Similarly, the "Heartbleed" bug that targeted eBayTM was found in software that was used to secure two-thirds of ecommerce sites. These security breaches left consumers worried about their own security. But cyber-attacks can have implications far beyond identity theft or stealing consumer data.
Cyber-attacks may also have impacts on manufacturing, mining, petrochemicals, and utilities--basically any facility using an industrial control system (ICS). Industrial control systems come in many forms, but essentially they gather data and are used to remotely control various local operations from a central location.
For example, an ICS may be used to monitor safety at several manufacturing plants or to open and close valves in a water supply system. According to David White, Chief Knowledge Officer at Axio Global, which serves to help critical infrastructure owners and operators assess cyber-risk, there have been a spree of cyber-incidents targeting industries that use an ICS.
Although the attacks did not do physical damage to the facility, they still raise alarming questions about the gathering of such data, and about the future security of facilities themselves. White told AirMic that these hacks are:
"Surveillance-style attacks, using malicious software are designed to gather information about the ICS. The only reason to gather that information is to give someone a strategic advantage at some point in the future."
If an ICS is used to control the operations at a power plant, for example, in theory a sophisticated cyber-attack could disable the plant remotely.
For organizations and businesses, emphasis is shifting from responding to these breaches of security to trying to pre-empt them. Security experts advise that companies have first response plans to deploy as soon as questionable activity happens on a server. Even still, the number of cyber-attacks happening makes a major black swan cyber event seem inevitable.
Many argue that the very nature of a black swan event means that you cannot truly prepare for them. Even still, a savvy company or individual can observe trends and do their best to prepare for the fallout after a black swan cyber-attack.
That brings us back to you and your family.
While companies have to figure out how to protect their infrastructure and economic plans from black swan cyber-attacks, the fallout to the consumer could be tremendous. What if a cyber-attack took industry offline? Would you be able to buy food? Gas? How would you run your household?
Now, let's go back to that imagined scenario mentioned earlier. What do you do? Imagine you rush to the grocery store, but are faced with enormous lines. Many businesses are prepared to run on a cash-basis in the short-term, but in an economy running on electronic point of sale systems, the effects of doing everything on paper would be frustrating for both employees and customers.
With limited access to cash,
store shelves may quickly clear
What if you wait it out and use the food your family has on hand for a day or two, only to find the grocery stores' shelves have been ransacked when you go to resupply. In the meantime, do you have access to your bank accounts if online banking is disabled? Will you be able to pay your food bills? If you have not prepared for the possibility of Black Swan cyber-attack, there might not be much that you can do once it hits. How would you wish that you had prepared?
First, you will want to have some cash ready.
Keeping a supply of cash secured in a lockbox or safe in your home will enable you to buy things that you can't easily store in your home, such as fuel for your car. Emergency cash can also be used to pay for services or to keep up on important bills.
We also recommend that you keep paper copies of financial records and other important documents. Even hospitals operate on largely digital systems these days. Having your family's medical records easily available could save critical time in case of an emergency when a hospital's digital records are down. While your bank or doctor might become prey to a cyber-attack, your paper backup files can't be hacked.
No cash to purchase food or gas
Then, you will need to feed yourself and your family.
If financial systems are disabled for a prolonged period of time, your emergency cash might not last. That is why we also recommend that you keep an emergency food supply on hand, so you can feed your family in times of crisis. A 3-month supply for each adult in the household is a good place to start.
With a supply of emergency food and a backup file of your important records, your family could fare pretty well while chaos ensues at the grocery store or the bank. But what if a Black Swan event hit your local water or electric company?
You'll need power.
Although cyber-attacks on utilities have not yet led to systems failure or physical damage, what if a Black Swan attack took out the electricity? Your family can be prepared for this scenario with a supply of 100-hour candles, flashlights, and backup batteries. An emergency radio is also wise to have available. Eventually, the batteries on your electronic devices will wear out, and an emergency radio can keep you connected to important updates. For longer-term power outages, a solar-powered generator, or other backup generator keeps your family powered-up and more comfortable.
Don't forget the water.
To survive, you need food and water. For your water supply, a gravity-fed water purification system is a must-have. On a day-to-day basis, you should already be using a purification system that removes up to 99.9999% of toxins and contaminants from your drinking water source. For more on that, see last week's Survival Scout and click here.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of a Black Swan event is that it's unpredictable. Taking precautionary measures to make sure you and your family thrive in a crisis means that, even if you can't see the problem coming, you are ready to face it head-on. Create a survival plan with your family, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with being prepared.
Have a great weekend and stay alert, friends.