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Cyber Security Awareness

Hacking the Large Hadron Collider?

By September 9, 2016No Comments

cyber-sept2016-3Remember when they first started building the Large Hadron Collider? So many people expressed concern that the experiment would create a rift in the space time continuum, or result in a black hole that swallows up the entire planet, or create an atomic explosion large enough to blast a hemisphere off the face of the Earth or any number of far-fetched sci-fi fantasies.

And then it turned out that all the machine really does is bang atoms together really fast… and we were kind of disappointed, weren’t we?

In truth, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays actually strike the planet at a much higher energy than the LHC is capable of producing. All the LHC does is take natural phenomena (that hasn’t killed any of us yet) and put it in a controlled environment where we can measure the results.

By the time the LHC project was attacked by hackers in 2008, the world had already stopped paying attention. The facility was hacked by a group calling themselves “GST: Greek Security Team,” with the signoff “We are 2600 – dont mess with us.”

Although the hack amounted to little more than a prank, the team at CERN reported that this was nevertheless worrying, as the hackers were “one step away” from the control system for one of the machine’s detectors, a 12,500 ton magnet, and the program’s website went offline following the attack.

Of course, the real concern isn’t so much that the hackers could have used the machine as some kind of doomsday device, just that the project cost close to six billion dollars to put together, and if they had done any serious damage to it, then that could have resulted in some very costly repairs.

Built to investigate the possible existence of the Higgs boson particle, the LHC was found to produce several Higgs bosons per minute, finally confirming something that had long been just a theory. The implications for physicists was tremendous… not that the general public really cared all that much.

The LHC is currently planned to see some upgrades, including a “high luminosity” feature, though this won’t come to pass until sometime after 2022.

So if you’ve ever wondered what’s the worst that could happen if someone hacked the Large Hadron Collider, now you know: It might set the project back a few million dollars. Some doomsday device, it couldn’t even blow up a continent, let alone the entire planet.