As if Paris didn’t have enough problems, Paris’ Orly Airport had to close briefly last week because a Windows 3.1 system that sends Runway Visual Range information to pilots failed. Windows 3.1 dates back to 1992. The French air traffic control union said that Paris airports use systems running 4 operating systems, including Windows 3.1 and XP, all are between 10 and 20 years old. The system should be upgraded anywhere between 2017 and 2021, depending on who you talk to.
But don’t beat up the French too much. Until the late 1990s or early 2000s, the FAA was still using systems running with VACUUM TUBES. Seriously. For a while, the U.S. Government was the largest user of vacuum tubes, which had to be specially made for them.
And many of you probably remember last year when a mentally ill technician attempted suicide after setting fire to an Air Route Traffic Control Center outside Chicago. Air traffic around the country was screwed up for weeks.
Fundamentally, there is a lot critical infrastructure in the U.S. and around the world that is older than most of the readers of this blog. Software that is 20, 30 or even 40 years old is not likely to be as secure, reliable or robust as software built today. However, whether it is inside power plants, trains, or air traffic control systems, it is what we got.
From a hacker standpoint, that is a dream. Much of the software was designed and built pre-Internet, but much of it is connected to the Internet anyway. Which is why Admiral Rogers, head of the NSA, told Congress recently that he is convinced that there are several countries that have the ability to take out pieces of our critical infrastructure. Several today. Probably more soon.
Unfortunately, there is so much of it and the critical points are almost all under private ownership. Nationwide, we are talking hundreds of thousands of pieces of infrastructure – drinking water, gas, electric, waste water, etc.
Unless we get serious about upgrading it,some hacker is going to get there first. That is not a very exciting thought.