Digital government needs a Plan O: Plan Offline

It’s not very difficult, taking down a website or a server. „We don’t know who’s responsible for the attack on the Dutch government’s websites or how they did it, but it wasn’t necessarily a group of professional hackers. It’s not uncommon that some 16 year old learns in IT class that sites and networks can be taken down, and then downloads an application and starts experimenting with it”, says internet expert Danny Mekić.

Several sites, including some of the government, have been offline for hours last Tuesday, as a result of an attack on the network of the internet service provider Prolocation in Delft, the Netherlands. Mekić isn’t very shocked, though. „Let’s be honest, we’re not talking about the government’s most important websites here. They weren’t the sites that handle personal information. It shouldn’t happen, sites like these need to be available and stay available, but it’s not a giant disaster either.”

Mekić himself was also on the receiving end of the attack. His personal website is hosted on a server that belongs to Prolocation’s network. Still, his website didn’t go down. He’d arranged a redundant backup as a precaution. „The government should have done something like that too. You’d expect the government to have a plan B. The site needs to be hosted somewhere else too, in a different place, on different servers. The question is: how important is it to you that your site should stay online?”

Having a plan B is important anyway, says Mekić. „There’s no such thing as 100% reliability. Things can always go wrong; it’s true for airplanes, cars and servers too.” He says we should hold on to the world outside of our computers, with its physical shops, physical offices and physical people. „We’re taking digitalisation very far. This has its advantages, but we’re also becoming more vulnerable to digital attacks. Take down one sector and you can disrupt all of society. We wouldn’t be able to make payments, or to renew our passports. Suppose the police’s system would fail one day — wanted criminals would be able to just freely walk the streets and no officer would recognise them. We need to think about this. I call it Plan O: Plan Offline.”

This article is written by Laurens Scholten and was published in several Dutch newspapers

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