Go back to basicsWhen the internet and smartphones stop, so does life in a modern society. The vulnerability of the super-connected society was laid bare when a network outage put the nation into a panic due to a pause in internet access, payment settlement of credit cards and stock and other everyday transactions and services we take for granted. The breakdown of KT, the largest fixed telecommunications and second largest wireless operator, on Monday was a rude awakening.
Most of the services using the KT network — including internet connection, credit card machines at stores and stock trading platforms — were disrupted for about 40 minutes. By lunch time, app-based food delivery was suspended and online classes came to a stop.
KT first floated the possibility of a distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attack. Two hours later, it corrected the comment and admitted to a technical error from a routing glitch. Whether the chaos was owed to a hacking attack and internal technical issue, the disruption in this ultra-wired society raised awareness of the susceptibility and danger from overreliance on electronic connection and a dominant telecommunication company. It also underscored the huge social cost from service breakdowns.
The danger, however, could have been avoided. The latest mishap suggests KT has not prepared well for contingency. Various infrastructure collapsed from a fire in a KT Ahyun branch in Seoul in 2018. The fire was contained after 10 hours. But even the 112 emergency line was not restored the following day.
Various problems, such as having no backup telecom operator, poor security and lack of emergency readiness in the healthcare system, were exposed. There had been calls for contingency plans to brace for the risk from over-reliance on IT, but the Monday fiasco clearly shows changes have not been apt.
The more connected, the more a society must get ready for disruption. KT must dig into the fundamental problem and build readiness against various probabilities. If it is weak against cyberattacks, it must reinforce its defense. If a technical glitch is found, comprehensive backup measures must be drawn up. It must go back to the basics.