Only a day after TechRadium field a lawsuit claiming Twitter had violated patents it developed as part of its mass-notification system, the real danger of relying on Twitter for mass notificagtion reared its ugly head. A DOS attack targeting the wildly popular social networking site crippled the service. According to reports, DOS attacks were also targeting Facebook.
It’s ironic that as we get more hyper-connected, those connections don’t always add reliability to our communications. We are dependent on our cellphones, and they have certainly become personal security devices for many people, but our cellphones depend on the reliability of their batteries and the individual’s ability to keep the battery charged. (Or in my personal case, my ability to remember to retrieve it from the charger before leaving the house).
We are dependent on the Internet for a broad swatch of our communications, but increasingly, the more criticals apps are being supported by private IP networks, with a much higher level of security than the wide-open Internet. That’s true for sensitive medical images and data used in telemedicine as well as many corporate and e-government applications.
As today’s attack on Twitter proves, pervasive communications for social purposes doesn’t always translate to reliable communications for emergency purposes. One of the reasons TechRadium filed its lawsuit was that, according to that company, some municipalities were considering usnig Twitter to send emergency alerts and communications.
I have no idea about the merit of the patent-infringement lawsuit, but the merits of using communications systems that are not vulnerable to Internet attacks remain significant. Cities, school districts, univerisities and other units that want to add social networking to their emergency alert systems shouldn’t be discouraged from doing so, since may of the young people they want to reach may be more accessible via social media, but relying on those systems as a primary means of communication is something that’s just not viable yet.