Financial Times notes that when cyberattacks occur, it is useful to have some employees around who know how to operate the system…whatever that system might be…without the automation. And the workers with this knowledge are often those who have been around for quite a while.
The value of older workers with deep operational knowledge was demonstrated two years ago at the Norwegian metals and electricity company Norsk Hydro. Like Colonial Pipeline, Norsk Hydro received a ransom demand but, instead of a shut down, a group of veteran workers switched to manual operations, removing the company from the attackers’ claws. “Without them, our production would have plummeted,” says Halvor Molland, Norsk Hydro’s spokesperson. “They had knowledge that existed 20 years ago but not today, and fortunately some are still employed by us while others returned from retirement to help.”
The CEO of Colonial Pipeline they had “muddled through” in the wake of the ransomware attack. But a lot of the people who operated the pipeline manually “are retiring or they’re gone. Fortunately, we still have that last bit of that generation.”
This is like something in a science fiction story: robots running things, humans nominally supervising the robots but not really understanding what they’re doing or why.
It’s been noted for some time that a lot of computer code was written in obsolescent or now-unpopular languages (especially COBOL), with support and modification becoming difficult since most of the people with the skills aren’t there anymore. But this is different–it’s not about loss of understanding of a linguistic formulation for representing a process, but a loss of understanding of the process itself.