EDITORIAL: Newly discovered computer security flaws reveal a greater threat to all

SHARE EDITORIAL: Newly discovered computer security flaws reveal a greater threat to all
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Intel computer processors are pictured on Jan. 5, 2018 in Paris.
| THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

When the military plans for our future defense, it builds next-generation systems from the ground up. You won’t find any Revolutionary War muskets.

We wish the same could be said for the security systems that guard the internet. As more of our economy and daily lives come to depend on a security-solid online world, we increasingly are vulnerable to attack; the internet’s aging underpinnings weren’t designed to shoulder the security needs of today’s far more complex computer systems.

We either do something about those pathetic cyber muskets or — as we learned last week — risk paying a high price.

EDITORIAL

Several big tech companies last week revealed that almost all computer chips have serious design flaws dating back a couple of decades that could make vast stores of information available to hackers. Even as tech firms hurry to create security patches, they admit some vulnerabilities will remain. Moreover, no one knows whether hackers took advantage of the flaws. Everything from servers to laptops to the smartphone in your hand could be ready to reveal your passwords and other private information.

Today, everything from utility grids and flight systems to cars and home thermostats depends on computer networks. The old-tech systems that provided a backup alternative in the early days of the internet — pay phones, mechanical internal combustion engines, paper bank ledgers and library card catalogs — have receded into the background. We depend on the zeroes and ones in computer code to keep everything running.

Computer experts tell us we got where we are because year after year designers pursued speed instead of security. Ironically, much of the slowness that bothers today’s users is caused not by slow circuitry, which is amazingly fast, but by various forms of malware that exploit security weaknesses.

As individuals, we can only respond by heeding the tired refrain we hear every time a significant new computer flaw or breach is announced: Use strong passwords, don’t open suspect files, and keep browsers and operating systems current so you have the latest security patches.

But together, we should be insisting on a vast effort to strengthen our digital security.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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