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December 2005

Perspectives: History teaches security lessons well

History Lessons Digital security could learn a lot from engineering's great disasters. Watching man-made failures on The History Channel's "Engineering Disasters," I realized lessons learned the hard way by mechanical, structural and chemical engineers easily can be applied to those practicing digital security. In 1931, extended rain breached levees on China's Yangtze River, killing 145,000 people. The Chinese government's flood relief efforts were hampered by the Japanese invasion, and later, civil war. The levees had been built decades earlier by amateur builders, mostly farmers protecting their lands. This disaster showed the weaknesses of defenses built by amateurs, for which no one is responsible. It also showed how other security incidents can degrade recovery operations. In 1944, a natural gas fire devastated part of Cleveland, killing 128 people. Engineers built a gas tank that failed when exposed to liquefied natural gas' extreme cold; nearby structures were torched when the leaking gas ignited. Engineers weren't aware ...

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