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In a World of “Not if but When” – When is Here.
Suddenly, life has become more complicated than taking your shoes off at the airport. And while it’s unlikely that Iran will directly attack the U.S. mainland, they have already threatened cyber-attacks and terrorism against military targets. And that’s going to complicate things for everyone.
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So what, if anything, should you do? Here are some points to ponder.
Preparing for Cyber-Attacks
It’s hard to estimate what Iran means by cyber-attacks when it comes to targets. It’s most likely they’ll target government websites, banks, and financial institutions, and it could get more insidious with threats to utilities, communications, and databases in general.
It’s unlikely they’ll target individuals, but if the grid goes down in some areas and banks and financial institutions are suddenly compromised, every individual will be affected.
Then again, a widespread virus could infect everything from computers to cell phones or any other wireless device. The Department of Homeland Security has specific advice for protecting yourself from cyber-attacks on its website.
These and some other steps to take are fairly clear:
• Change passwords for all bank accounts, social media, and any other Internet communication that requires a password. This is a good practice as a general rule but now might be a good time to make sure you get it done. And remember some of the standard advice for strong passwords.
Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols and mix up letters with upper and lower case. They’re going to be hard to remember so write them down somewhere.
• Turn your computer off when you’re not using it. Hackers are like thieves in the night and even a sleeping computer that’s still on can be hacked. If you’re not using it, shut it off.
• Install and/or update antivirus software. If you don’t have antivirus software on your computer, now may be a good time to get it. You can download a very effective antivirus program called AVAST for free. Like all cyber-security programs, they also have the option to upgrade to expanded services, but at a minimum make sure you at least have a basic level of antivirus software running and updated to the latest version.
• Limit Internet usage if you can. This is going to be a tough one for some people, but it’s no different than staying off the street when danger is present. The Internet may be the information super-highway, but the best way to stay out of trouble may be to pull over and park some of your Internet activity to some degree until the threats become clear.
• Is this download necessary? There’s a Trojan Horse Virus that has become endemic on Facebook Instant Messenger. It usually begins with a trusted friend of yours saying, “I can’t believe how you look in this video!” Below the message is a link to an unknown site. When you download it there’s no video, but there is a virus and it’s now on your hard drive.
If this kind of virus distribution were engineered by a terrorist state, it could spread to other channels and digital distribution networks. What kind of world would it be if we were hesitant to click on anything on the Internet? Virus software can help, but even today and before recent events, you should think twice before downloading anything from an unknown source.
• Think off-grid. The Y2K fear was motivated by the potential threat of a computer glitch caused by the occurrence of 01.01.00 showing up as the date on computers on New Year’s Day, 2000. The combination of the zero and one digits represents the foundation binary code in all computers.
The fear was that computers would mistake the date as code, and it would cause programs to crash, eventually causing the grid to crash. Obviously, government agencies, utilities, and corporations took the necessary precautions to prevent the glitch. But cyber-terrorism is more than a glitch. It’s a highly targeted attack and if the grid goes down because of it, are you ready?
Whole books have been written about living off the grid but on a fundamental basis, it means finding alternatives for basic lighting, cooking, heating, water, communication, medical care, and food storage. It’s a lot to think about but if you haven’t given it any thought… now may be a good time.
• Refill prescription medicines. If you are highly dependent on a prescription medication like blood thinners, insulin, blood pressure medicine, or other medications necessary for a chronic condition—make sure those prescriptions have been refilled.
An attack on the Internet can compromise anything and everything including your ability to do something as simple as refilling a critical prescription. Do it now, just in case. If nothing happens, you’ll eventually need them anyway.
Preparing for Terrorism
According to Hossein Dehghan, the military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, “Iran was not seeking war with the United States but the response for sure will be military and against military sites.”
Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but with President Trump threatening 52 attacks against Iranian targets including cultural targets, the chance for Iranian civilian deaths is significant. Once Iranian civilians become victims of U.S. retaliation, any limits on Iranian terrorist targets will no doubt extend beyond military targets.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
• If you’re planning an overseas vacation or business trip, you might want to delay the trip until the situation becomes clear or stabilizes. If you’re still planning on pursuing the trip, there are some general guidelines often cited for American citizens traveling internationally on business that applies equally well to a vacation trip.
- Keep a low profile. You don’t want to call undue attention to yourself.
- Avoid local attractions and tourist traps. These have obvious appeal to anyone on vacation and are easy targets. A nightclub in Bali was the target of a terrorist attack in 2002 because it was popular with westerners. In that incident most of the victims were Australian.
- Dress like the locals. Certain types of clothing can mark you as American. This includes hats and shirts of U.S. sports teams although locals often wear these around the world. Your appearance can also indicate your origin so the more you keep your clothing choices neutral or local the more likely you’ll blend into the background.
- Westernized hotels are an easy target for terrorists. The J.W. Marriott in Jakarta, Indonesia was a target for a terrorist attack in 2009 because it was popular with westerners, especially Americans.
- Crowded venues and events are a magnet for terrorists. The goal of most terrorists is to inflict as much carnage as possible. The pattern is clear with suicide bombers. Historically, they have chosen crowded places to cause as much injury as possible. Think twice before going to places that attract a significant number of people.
- Check the U.S. State Department Website for travel advisories. The State Department regularly monitors countries and regions and updates warnings on a scale measuring various factors. Before traveling anywhere for any reason, you should check the U.S. State Department Website for travel advisories.
- Enroll in the U.S. Smart Traveler Program. This program, also known as S.T.E.P., gives you daily alerts on terrorist activities and cautions and can be delivered to you a variety of ways from your computer to your smartphone. It can also help local U.S. embassies track your location if you choose to make that known.
• When terrorism returns to our shores, and there’s a good chance it might, the best advice is to carefully heed the warnings and recommendations of local law enforcement and both local and national emergency management agencies.
Threat levels often vary across regions with cities usually at the center of most terrorist activity. The degree to which anyone needs to prepare or respond is proportional to the immediate and local threat level.
Rural areas will probably be more insulated from terrorist activity, assuming the attack is not in the category of biological or chemical weapons. Here again, the best advice should come from local and federal authorities. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security website has specific advice for advance preparations for disasters that are worth reading.
There are also books on surviving terrorism, but the degree to which you want to prepare is again one of personal choice and the threat level you think your location might endure.
What Else Should I Do?
As I mentioned above, make sure you have all the basics covered. That includes things like:
Is This Another False Alarm?
Unfortunately, no. The degree to which this escalates in the coming days, weeks, and months is impossible to predict, but the tensions between the United States and Iran have not been this high since the Iran hostage crisis back in 1980.
And one thing that people seem to be forgetting is that Iran is allied with China and Russia, and the three countries have been holding joint naval drills. It’s debatable whether China and Russia would come to Iran’s aid if we invaded them, but it’s a very real possibility.
So the question isn’t whether this will lead to war. The bigger question is, what kind of war would it be, and would it ever end?
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