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12 industry disaster scenarios

Andrew C. Oliver | Oct. 12, 2012
The end of the world may or may not be nigh, but in the tech industry, many of these possibilities could easily become reality

Disaster scenario No. 9: New draconian copyright legislation is enacted

A number of proposals have been floated or are actively floating around, in the United States and other countries, to enact new legislation -- nominally in the name of protecting intellectual property -- that would impose new restrictions on technology and grant new powers to the governments of the world. Most if not all of the bills are far too broad, overreaching, and draconian, and they'd almost certainly have a chilling effect on civil liberties and the advance of technology.

Disaster scenario No. 10: The NYSE gets hacked

Knight Capital's $440 million loss and Facebook's recent glitchy launch have revealed how vulnerable our markets can be to software bugs. What about a more systematic and deliberate widespread attack?

What if you randomly redistributed funds from DJIA companies over a period of months, then slowly drained the money out of the indexes before staging a massive DoS attack? This is a variation on the "Superman/Office Space" scenario. Simply shutting down the market probably costs a pretty penny.

Disaster scenario No. 11: Monster cloud outage

Recently Amazon suffered a well-publicized outage that affected everyone from Netflix to Instagram. On the hypothetical Internet Richter scale, this was maybe a 5. Having to wait a few hours to catch up on "Breaking Bad" is annoying, but it won't end my day.

On the other hand, the cloud is in its infancy, and outages give big customers the willies. The worse they are, the more companies will think twice about moving their services, data, and backups to the cloud. What if Amazon or Google really screws up and has a multiday event or, worse, the D word: data loss?

Disaster scenario No. 12: The bad guys win the war on general-purpose computing Cory Doctorow gave a talk recently in which he discussed the "war on general-purpose computing." In this war, special interests are actively trying to restrict the purposes for which we can use the computing devices we own. If we lose this war, it will be commonplace to buy PCs that can boot only one operating system or computing devices that refuse to run programs unless they're "blessed" by a corporation or government agency.

The "computers" we have access to will no longer be general-purpose tools that obey our commands and can be programmed to serve any purpose we wish. Instead, they'll become specialized tools we use as "black boxes." Devices will report on our activities (without our knowledge), restrict our usage, and record our data, all without our say in the matter.


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