We were flying at more than 500 mph, seven miles straight up. It was around 11 pm and we were over the Northern US during a snowstorm. The big explosion in the plane surprised everyone…
Before our takeoff in Minneapolis, the flight attendant announced that this was the newest aircraft in this airline’s entire fleet and on one of its first flights.
All was normal during takeoff. The plane had climbed and leveled off at altitude. The flight attendant was in the aisle, just emerging from the forward galley.
Without warning, there was a blinding flash of light, right where she was standing! She seemed to disappear and was replaced by what looked like an orange fireball.
Everything happened at once. All the lights went off inside the cabin. There was an ear-splitting BOOM! The seats launched upwards with a powerful jolt.
Passengers’ minds raced. Did a terrorist plant a bomb in the cargo hold and now we were all going to crash? How long does it take to dive seven miles straight down? Do we have a chance to survive? Calmly, my thoughts were of our family and how I would miss getting to help them, as well as how much I’d miss getting to help organizations protect their networks – the two missions of my life.
I expected to feel the heat of flame and the smell of smoke, but there was none.
Instead of diving, the plane stayed straight and level.
The lights in the cabin came back on. The flight attendant was getting up from the floor.
The man in the seat next to me announced, “We just experienced a lightning strike under the nose of the jet.”
We all turned to look at him. Interesting choice of words – he used the word experienced, rather than the word survived. He went on to explain that he was from London, and his firm built many components for this new jet.
He started explaining: In the past, planes were made of aluminum, and getting struck by lightning was no big deal. The lightning usually travelled around the aluminum hull of the plane and exited without causing any problems.
New jets replace aluminum with carbon fiber since doing so can shave more than 10,000 pounds of weight off a jet.
But, carbon fiber doesn’t conduct electricity, so a lightning strike would make a plane explode into flames. To overcome this, the aircraft manufacturers embed a conductive metallic mesh into the carbon fiber, and the mesh will conduct the electricity from lightning around the fuselage.
Just like in cyber-security, a computer must be protected to achieve survivability.
Akin to the metallic mesh pressed into carbon fiber on new aircraft, computers and networks must be protected.
The wire mesh you use needs to be making sure to keep up to date with the most recent critical security patches, use technologies like click-to-play, uninstall non-essential programs, and make sure users use standard (not administrative) local user accounts.
Once you protect your network, it is possible that security strikes will be thwarted and the event may even go unnoticed. Similarly, maybe some lightning strikes go unnoticed. But not the strike that night – there was still a bright beam of light, surround sound, and a tooth jostling bump.
Please forward this to anyone you know who might benefit from knowing that, just like metal mesh inside modern aircraft protects against lighting strikes, there are important steps to protect computers from cyber-attacks too.