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By Andrea Chang and Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The cyberoutages came one after another: one of the nation’s biggest airlines, its largest financial news publication and its main stock exchange.

Wednesday morning’s spate of technological foul-ups grounded United Airlines flights, sidelined the Wall Street Journal‘s website and halted trading for hours on the New York Stock Exchange. Their successive timing ignited widespread speculation about hacking attacks and conspiracy theories about who might be responsible.

Government and company officials said the causes were more mundane and technical, but the shutdowns nonetheless raise concerns about the vulnerability of vital organizations that can be easily crippled by malfunctions or cyberattacks.

As the world becomes more connected, such events expose serious risks for countries, companies and individuals who depend so heavily on fragile technology — often a mash-up of neglected old-fashioned processes and cutting-edge systems. Electricity grids, credit cards, social media, email, public transportation and GPS all have become indispensable to everyday modern life.

“These are incredibly complicated systems. There are lots and lots of failure modes that are not thoroughly understood,” said Jeff Schmidt, chief executive and founder of JAS Global Advisors, a security consulting firm. “Because the systems act so quickly, you have this really increased potential for cascading failures.”

On most days, the Internet and the myriad systems it powers can be counted on to work well enough. But security experts say problems are inevitable, whether due to hacking, human error, broken cables, buggy code or other unforeseen issues.

Technology will evolve and improve over time, but it will never be foolproof. What’s more important, experts say, is for organizations and individuals to better protect themselves against issues that are bound to crop up — an often neglected task.

Carl Wright, general manager of TrapX, a security-through-deception defense company, said much of the rapid deployment of new technology comes with little forethought about security.

“If we take a look historically at security budgets for most enterprises, most are about 10 percent of the whole IT spend of an organization. Sometimes, it’s as low as 6 percent,” he said. “Not a lot of the money an organization spends on tech to create capability for their business goes to securing it. What we need to see is a major shift.”

One problem: The best security systems can be costly. In other cases, the technology is still struggling to catch up to plug the holes.

But organizations can play defense. Business continuity plans and relationships with regulators and law enforcement can lead to faster response times when problems arise. Building in redundancies — using two Internet service providers, for instance — can serve as a backstop when one system crashes.

Training programs get employees up to speed on how to better handle failures. At the higher levels, nimble management teams can quickly identify an issue and respond to it — difficult in large corporations and heavily regulated businesses.

One strategy growing in popularity is for businesses to invite hackers to look for security vulnerabilities and reward them with so-called bug bounties.

Many organizations rely on third-party vendors to help them prepare for outages. A slew of security companies have cropped up, introducing new technology that replaces standard character-based passwords with images and even emojis.

Wednesday morning’s series of outages was an unusual occurrence, immediately prompting questions about a cyberattack.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement that “the malfunctions at United and the NYSE were not the result of any nefarious actor. Both organizations cited technical issues for their downtime, which totaled 3 { hours for the NYSE and about 1 { hours for United.

A spokeswoman for the Wall Street Journal said its website’s outage was still being investigated.

Cybersecurity and the massive dependence on technology have also concerned lawmakers. On Wednesday, three of the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials strongly urged Congress and Silicon Valley to allow government authorities immediate, instant access to encrypted cellphones and other Internet devices.

The coincidental timing of that pitch — on the same day that the outages occurred — might bolster officials’ case that more stringent measures are needed to protect American computers and national infrastructure from cyberattacks, despite objections from Silicon Valley.

On Tuesday, the nation’s top cryptographers criticized Washington demands for companies to alter their technology and allow law enforcement to secretly see and read what is being sent and received on cellphones and computers.

“Lawmakers,” the scientists warned, “should not risk the real economic, geopolitical and strategic benefits of an open and secure Internet for law enforcement gains that are at best minor and tactical.”

(Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A United Airlines employee, center on phone, works with passengers at the economy check-in area of O’Hare International Airport as flights were delayed due to a stoppage on Wednesday, July 8, 2015. United grounded all U.S. flights because of “automation issues.” Planes at O’Hare were not leaving the gates, and some passengers said they were unable to book flights. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.