Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Lights Out by Ted Koppel

By Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.0

Lights Out
By Ted Koppel

If you are reading this review, the odds are that you are in the field of cyber-security. If so, do not expect to learn much that is new. But it is a great book for the people that are not aware of the threats we face. The big premise is that it is possible to shut down the power grid. In that case, people in Montana will probably do better than people in New York City, (if you live in a major US city, I suggest watching the movie 33 will give you a sense of what life will be like. In a complete shutdown lasting a year, (not counting Texas, Alaska, and Hawaii that are not connected to the North American grid, the book estimates 1 in 10 people will survive. That is pretty grim, so that even though many of us that have been exposed to reports like the Bi-Partisan Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, just shrug. It is such a big problem that we can't get our brains around it.

In the course I authored and taught for ten years, SANS Security Leadership Essentials, I would use that example, (Electromagnetic Pulse, (EMP) attack), in the risk evaluation section of the course as something unlikely to happen, but having massive consequences and without fail, I would be looking at a sea of blank uncomprehending faces.

This is the problem Mr. Koppel attempts to address in his book. He has a reputation as a trusted news reporter, he had a research team, he used an exhaustive number of sources including our own Richard Clarke, Tom Ridge and Howard Schmidt. And to be fair he doesn't hype the cyber attack angle more than it deserves, in addition to EMP, he mentions massive solar events as well as the classic bolt cutters and AK-47s, combo (both were used in an actual power center attack).

He demonstrates with authority the government isn't going to help us, can't help us. The book ends, somewhat inconclusively, about groups that have looked at the situation and are at least taking some steps ranging from the preppers to the LDS Church. The real question to measure the success of the book is does it result in a lifestyle change of any sort, buying the quality hand cranked radio and flashlight, the extra Costco stack of skinless boneless salmon cans? Water and sanitation are a bit harder, but even a San Francisco studio apartment can stash a couple gallons of drinking water. FEMA recommends being able to live on your own resources for three days, I would suggest ten days is not a sign of paranoia and covers many more use cases.

A last thought. In this scenario the Internet would be all but gone. Kathy and I just spent two weeks on a boat in Belize and I made a conscious choice to disconnect and it wasn't that bad being off the grid, (I did buy Kathy the international package for her phone so she could text her friends and family). There are numerous solar cell products to charge your phone, possibly even iPad, but solar for a Macbook Pro runs about $250 and up. Fifteen years ago, it might have made sense to think about trying to use a laptop in a disaster scenario, but with nobody to email or friend, and all the software and storage being cloud oriented it probably wouldn't be very useful. I don't know that I would purchase the book, (my copy was a gift). If your house is like mine, your bookcase space is pretty tight, but it is worth visiting your local library to check it out and give it a read.