We’re watching the Ukraine situation closely, but we’re watching the potential fallout even more closely. Russia controls a lot of the raw materials we rely on to power our technology - titanium, palladium. China uses those to create our technology, and though we trade with them, we’re not aligned politically. When we add those concerns to the existing supply chain issues, oil prices, astronomically increased threat of cyberattacks, and the growing spread of disinformation, we see a lot of risks that could change our industry and the world as we know it.
In our industry, we’re all aware of the increased threat of cyberattacks coming out of Russia. IMO, wipers - the idea that the malware can totally wipe out a machine's software code making it unusable - are the real threat. An attack on one is an attack on all when it comes to malicious code. The code they are slinging back and forth in the attack on Ukraine most certainly will end up elsewhere. We saw that in 2017 (NotPetya, WannaCry, Equifax) and it cost the world billions.
Across the US, we have a lot of unprotected critical infrastructure. Our hospitals, our energy and power sector, our water supply, and of course our telecommunications all depend on technology that is vulnerable to cyberattacks, ransomware, DDOS attacks, and wipers. And, of course, the supply chain issues that started with COVID have made it incredibly challenging to upgrade critical equipment that could be used for protection. In my opinion, we’re not ready as a country for what could come up.
We all need to exercise a 3 part strategy to protect against cyberattacks, wipers, and ransomware. First and foremost, we need to harden our systems to make it as hard as possible for offenders to have an impact. Then we need to create a lot of urgency and momentum around this and warn everyone involved in the business of the impact an attack could have. Third, we need to make sure our incident response teams are prepared to get systems back up as quickly as possible, and have a tested, supported plan in place to do that.
Even if you have a cyberattack mitigation plan in place, you’re still going to have some challenges with business continuity. Those are going to be exacerbated by the inability to get critical hardware in a timely way and the ongoing challenges in hiring good cybersecurity experts. So make sure you’re doing everything you can to be efficient with capacity - peering, caching, etc. Know what attacks might come up (DDOS, blackholing, wipers, ransomware, and so on) and have a plan for each. And find a firm (like ours) that knows what they’re doing and can help.
Of course, the increased threat of cyberattacks are only one of the issues our industry is facing now. We’re also dealing with the impact of supply chain slowdowns. These started with COVID, but they’re going to continue to grow as the price of oil and gas becomes higher, and Russia stops allowing exports (or countries stop accepting them) of its critical raw materials. So, we’re estimating that these shortages will continue for at least another year, and maybe much longer than that.
Gas prices are now at the highest levels they’ve ever been in the United States. Unless something changes we may be seeing prices this high for the next 6-9 months. What does that mean for your teams? Your people are going to have to pay more to get to work. Some of your subscribers may revert back to working from home, or start working from home more, to avoid paying the high cost of gas, which means they’re going to have higher bandwidth demands during the day. Each of your truck rolls will be more expensive - but we can help you reduce those costs.
It’s already hard to find good people. Unemployment rates are the lowest they’ve been in years. It’s particularly challenging to find people in your area with the types of skillsets they need to do the job. I believe that, as the information technology environment changes, the deep knowledge required is only going to increase, making it even more difficult to find the right people.
I also expect this crisis to lead to growing amounts of disinformation. First, we’re going to see that directly with Russia. Despite the efforts of hackers to open up the information environment for the average Russian, the country is moving towards levels of information control that rival North Korea and China. That means that their own people aren’t going to hear anything positive about the US and may start to believe what they hear. That makes them more willing to view the US as a target.
We’re already seeing state control of media expanding in Russia. We should also expect growing amounts of disinformation targeted at the US from Russia and its allies. Social media is too easy to manipulate and the platforms are too slow or too unwilling to block or censor bad-actor content. And since lies tend to spread far more quickly and widely on social media than the truth, these bad actors are able to sow disinformation and falsehood throughout our own communities.
Overall, there are a lot of reasons to watch this conflict very closely. Increased cyberthreats, long-term high gas prices, continuing supply chain issues, ongoing hiring problems, and growing disinformation are all going to have an impact on our industry long term. We’ll keep a very close eye on any new developments and changes, and will ensure we help our clients avoid any issues as much as possible.