What is Tech? Hackers, war, the “2038 problem” can all affect your internet access


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Two events are threatening Americans’ ability to connect to the Internet. Hackers have always posed a threat through DNS or denial of service attacks. Another threat is known in the cybersecurity world as the “2038 problem” which can cause computer problems similar to the Y2K bug fears of 20 years ago.

The year 2038 problem is 16 years in the future, but the threat is already visible. Take your own smartphone. Open Settings and try changing the calendar date to 2038. You can’t because a math problem prevents many computers from seeing past 2037.

When computer programmers built Unix code in 1970, they used a 32-bit system that counted seconds. Like other programs and systems built on Unix code, they have, in a sense, created an “expiration date of about 2.1 billion seconds.”

The countdown is started and the counter reaches 0 on January 19, 2038 at 3:14:07, at which time computers using Unix will reset their clocks to December 1910. The problem, if not solved, could affect food. networks, infrastructures, air navigation systems and other critical services worldwide.

“If we don’t fix it, we run the risk of indefinite problems,” says Mikko Hypponen, a global cybersecurity expert in the IT field. “Systems will fail in ways we don’t fully understand.”

Hypponen said from his home in Helsinki that the 2038 problem could affect more computer systems than the year 2000 threat, not least because advances in computing over the past 20 years connect virtually everything to the internet.

The good news, he says, is that computer programmers have been working on a solution for more than a decade. An important solution appeared about two years ago, but there are still fears that not everything is settled.

“It’s a big problem but we still have time to solve it,” Hypponen said. “And many of the fixes that need to be made have already been made, but as some of the issues are already showing up, it’s something we need to take seriously.”

A more immediate threat to US cyberspace is the Russian “digital army,” already believed to be responsible for multiple cyberattacks against our infrastructure, the US State Department, hospitals, banks, and US citizens.

How much of a real threat does Russia pose to launch a destructive cyberattack? I asked Hypponen if there could be a “digital Pearl Harbor”.

“The worst-case scenario of widespread cyberattacks is different from what you see in the movies,” he said. “The most useful thing an attacker can do on the Internet is usually not to shut down the Internet or shut down or destroy systems.

In most cases, it is better for the attacker to use the connectivity for spying or intelligence gathering rather than just shutting down the system. »

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