Monday, July 17, 2006

Why hide the security lesson of Mumbai?

Bruce Schneier points out there is a serious, if minor, security lesson to be learnt from the Mumbai train bombings:

Two quotes:

Authorities had also severely limited the cellular network for fear it could be used to trigger more attacks.


Some of the injured were seen frantically dialing their cell phones. The mobile phone network collapsed adding to the sense of panic.

(Note: The story was changed online, and the second quote was deleted.)

Cell phones are useful to terrorists, but they're more useful to the rest of us.

This is an important lesson. There is a tendency amongst certain "authorities" to distrust and be condescending to the public. Honesty and transparency is alien to their way of thinking, and it shouldn't be. The fear of a mobile phone signal triggering more attacks is ridiculous -- as far as I know, such an attack has never taken place, ever. Mobile phones are frequently used as timers to trigger bombs, but they don't need to be connected to the cellular network for that. Cutting off the network has zero benefit: it doesn't prevent further bombings (they can run off a timer, just like the original bombs). But it does have significant costs: not just the human cost of preventing the dying, injured and merely worried victims from calling their loved ones, but the more serious costs to first responders like ambulance. After Sept 11, the private networks used by police and fire departments broke down under the load, and the first responders relied on their personal mobile phones to communicate. Cutting off the cellular network imposes a significant burden on the already-struggling first responders.

Zero benefit, significant cost -- I'm not surprised that the clueless authorities would be in love with the idea of shutting off the mobile network. But I am surprised that the New Zealand "Stuff" website is a party in hiding that lesson by censoring their report.

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