The Systemic Risk of a Networked Cashless Society

When its up and running, it works great. But when it breaks, or goes offline, all transactions stop. Period.

What am I talking about? Today I was reminded yet again. To buy and sell… it’s impossible without electronic networks humming along. Even if you have cash. Nope. No can do. No sale.

We stopped at Walgreens today. Mrs. J hopped out of the truck to go in and pick up a few things. I waited in the truck with the dog. I wasn’t watching but I was surprised she returned so quickly… She said that a sign on the door read something like “We are temporarily closed due to Network issues”.

No network, No sale. Period.

“But wait, I have cash!” (You might say). “Sorry, we cannot ring up cash sales without the network.” (They might say back to you).

You see, everything is tied together on electronic networks, one way or another. The networks must be up and running. The Registers. Credit/Debit card systems. Sales. Inventory management. The company’s home office ‘mother ship’…

Of course, there are exceptions. There are cash businesses. But I’m talking about the vast majority of buying and selling today.

As we were driving back home, I said to her, “Remember the days when almost all transactions were cash (or check)?” Yes, that was decades ago. But that was normal.

I also recall “way back when”, those credit card ‘machines’ (whatever you called them) … The card would be set into the little machine and the cashier would slide a mechanism across it. A paper carbon copy imprint of the card/receipt would be created and slipped in the register drawer. All by hand. I used to do that while working at a hardware store when I was (16?). How far we’ve come since those days!

My point being that it’s interesting (alarming?) how you cannot buy a product in a store if their electronic network is down.

In context with the today’s threat of cyber-attacks, it makes you go hmmmm….

Networks Vulnerable To Cyber Attack

A store could be jam packed with product, but you can’t buy a thing.

It reminds me of a book Ted Koppel wrote, titled “Lights Out”. I read it. Good book. Although he was mostly talking about cyber attacks on the power grid, this also applies to any network, especially critical networks.

(Note: The other book titled “Lights Out” by David Crawford is a good read too. A novel.)

Koppel (accurately) said “We are not ready”. He also pointed out how we are not a preemptive society, but instead a reactionary society. He’s right on that. Very few people think ‘preemptively’ while the vast majority are stuck in ‘normalcy bias’ going about their daily lives ‘reacting’ to circumstances.

“We have developed dependencies we could not even have imagined a generation ago.” “To be dependent is to be vulnerable.”

“The ranks of our enemies, those who would and can inflict serious damage on America, have grown and diversified.”

These (enemies) are not just nation states. But they include hackers, proxies, and independent actors who make it difficult or even impossible to know exactly who they are.

Food for thought.

[ Read: Lights Out For A Nation Unprepared As Cyberattack Downs Power Grid ]

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27 Comments

  1. funny. It has taken 5 (FIVE) emails to the State to get them to change my bank…..wait….I still do NOT have confirmation! yes, first, they needed to verify I am who I say I am…..never mind they have been paying me as a contractor for over 20 years. Next, they decided my email had changed. ooops they missed that notification in 2019. Then they noticed my address had changed….oooops they missed that notification in 2019…..then they decided they were sending me 1099 based on personal ID rather than company id…..well, they screwed that up toooo……UNBELIEVABLE

  2. In 2009 we had an ice storm that left us without power for 2 weeks. That is what got me started prepping. We could not buy anything in town, even with cash. We had to go to the next town about 20 miles to buy anything. Now we keep food, water, fuel and other supplies on hand all the time.

    1. i remember that little ice storm. at least had small generator for lights at night and at least had half tank of gas. i remember some people lining up in the town my mom lived in and people were getting a little testy having to wait in long line for a few gallons of gas and also could only use cash. seems like yesterday.

  3. Yep, used to work at a big box store and if the net goes down or there is a power outage of any sort you are dead in the water. No little printed tags on anything so no manual way to add anything and pay for it.

  4. sigh…..when I was working we still had a manual sliding credit card machine which we used if the card system was down. Had customer sign, like the ‘old days’. Then cards were entered in manually by the office. Guess that is way over the heads of todays corporations.

  5. Food for thought,
    for sure.

    Ahh, modern technology….
    Life was so much simpler, without it.

    1. Ain’t that the truth brother!
      Computers were supposed to 1) reduce paper …..LOL ROFLMAO, 2) save us time!!! ROFLMAO again…3) make communication easier….ahahahahhaa all it did was ISOLATE us! And, NOW, you have NO ONE to blame because they don’t share info, and NEVER ID themselves!

  6. Same experience in a restaurant a few weeks ago. Small local chain with local ownership, stop in every so often to support locals. Walked in to order some food to-go, but could not. Their system crashed, panic mode. No more orders (even the cash I offered) for lack of “a system”. I asked about the folks already eating. Told they had scrounged up a calculator from the office, and were writing up paper checks on pieces of copier paper and begging customers to pay cash if they could. They had no manual cr card machine, I guess they wrote down c/c info and hope it worked the next day. This was a Saturday afternoon, and they were willing to give up Sat evening revenue just to get the people already in there out and close the doors.

    With cyber attacks (and who knows real origin of these), power grids at risk (too hot this summer – shut it down), and many people reliant on electronic payments, ATM’s, etc… a recipe for total disaster. And there are people out there who swear Bitcoin is the way to go… I’m not buying it. And I’m watching to see how all of the talk about Central Bankers creating their own digital currencies goes. But that’s a whole different topic by itself.

  7. And both Lights Out books (fiction and non-fiction) are WELL worth the price if you have not already read them. I shared the non-fiction Ted Koppel Lights Out with a friend who retired from a job in a top IT security project leadership role at a major utility company. Was told the book was spot-on, and all utilities spending enormous sums trying to shore up both electronic and physical locations from hackers/physical attacks. They had hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hack attempts (some amateurs, some very sophisticated) every single day. Massive amounts of money being spent to thwart attacks, one multi-year project alone was appx $100 million, and that was at least 5 years ago now. Some of the needed work was not done due to budget constraints at that time… they simply could not do everything needed and had to prioritize projects by urgency.

    1. Loved Crawford’s “Lights Out”. It was so compelling I read it twice.
      I can only imagine the chaos and death that will ensue if the lights go out and the grid is down for months or longer…

  8. Decades ago, I thought I was pretty well prepared for many things when the last big recession hit us. The company/agency I was working for was going to be receiving IOU’s in place of paychecks. Many stayed in place thinking: “The Governator would never do this” or “The Governator cannot do this”. I got news for you folks: the prior Governor Pete Wilson did EXACTLY THAT for 8 months in 1992. I was not going to wait for that to happen to me.
    Rather than hunker in place, I relocated after finding another job after verification that the employer paid cash and was financially in better health than my prior employer. These days, as I did back then, I read the paper frequently enough that I can stay abreast of what is going on in the economy at world, state and local levels. This habit clued me in to trends that were coming down the pipe and allowed me some forewarning to purchase food, TP, ammo, primers and reloading supplies in anticipation of shortages. Having a certain amount of cash reserve set aside is one of those prudent measures of having something set aside for hard times or times of crisis.
    Most of us posting on this site are older. It means we have seen some things in our day. It is good to share what we see around us in our AO’s as we are from around the US and some are from outside the US. ( I have not heard from Veteran for a while now. I hope he is doing well.)

  9. When I was a trucker some decades ago we had company credit cards. Way too Dangerous to carry large wads of Cash for fuel. The “Excitement” when they failed even for the day was scary. As truckers talk to each other IF there was a system wide failure I foresee a LOT of trailers left where they are and Bobtails heading HOME.

    Even if the event was resolved in 24 hours HOW long would it take with a Just In Time system to get all those Truckers back on the road, Finding their trailers and getting those deliveries back into the system?

    With the BAD results of that EBT Card issue over several states a few years ago (Before all this Media Driven Extra Animosity) HOW would folks react to a your EBT Card Doesn’t work at all… Most of these folks have NO RESERVES of food at all to speak of.

    The World Economic Forum (WEF) has Cyber Polygon 2021 “Wargame” simulating a world wide systemic Failure of the Supply Systems STARTING July 9th. Odd since these folks also had a hand in Event 201 “Pandemic Wargame” that preceded COVID 19 by a few months, and last years Cyber Polygon 2020 “Wargame” Ransomware in addition to other cyber crimes.

    A Hot Summer ahead. Or in Chinese “Interesting Times”.

  10. Took a bus trip though western canada some years ago on the way to alaska, one of the places we stopped at was a small town ( ? ) for a break that had a general store. Looking at the outside of the building, it looked like it was out of the 1920s as did the inside. After getting out drinks and snacks, we lined up to pay for them and there was modern cash register on the counter and right beside it was an old time cash register, the kind that you pushed the buttons for amount. When ask about it, if it was for show the owner said that whenever the electricity goes out, they use that old cash register. Sometimes the older things are better than the new items that are made to replace the older equipment. just saying

  11. This is one of my biggest concerns. Digital currency makes it easy as pie for those who think ‘wrong’ thoughts and believe or say ‘wrong’ things to be cut off from society. Barter will work for some things, if one has factored that in and prepared for it, but not for everything. Taxes are a big one. If your account gets frozen for being a bad citizen or somesuch, and cash can’t be used, how do the property taxes get paid? Can’t pay those? Then say goodbye to the home/land you own. I guess that’s part of the plan – own nothing, be happy, right? Wish I could think of a way to prep for that; the only answer to that I can come up with is most definitely ‘wrong’ speak, so I guess I won’t say it.

    1. Farmgirl trusted friends that can bridge between the crazies and us is a blessing. We help them they help us when TPTB shutdown our electronic lives.

      Thus we can trade our products for them buying things we cannot.

      It’s not ideological purity we need It’s Trust when things get weird.

      Trusted friends are better than gold when the chips are down.

    2. This will be cause for more armored up Cat dozers, you take away a mans reasons for being civil he will react in kind

      1. Kulafarmer, NH Michael,

        S’pose then they’ll have to pass dozer control legislation…

        Yes, trusted friends are a blessing and I’m grateful for those wonderful people. Some things, we just won’t know how they’re going to turn out ahead of time. That’s where the ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart’ comes in. Mostly, I do, but sometimes I still stress a little. The reminders here from you, Dennis, Minerjim and many others are much needed and appreciated.

      2. Have cat ,,,will travel, ,,,,,,,,,,have 1/2inch AR500 sheets was going to make targets ,hum ,,

    3. The past years I’ve taken heat over the trading post being on a PM standard ,i see Jim rawls is going to PM s for his gun business ,i believe if you have PMs you will find a way to get taxes paid , ,,,,,,,,

      What would John Galt do ?
      ,,,,,

      1. I think that he’d check out Sempre 5G at
        helpnetsecurity.com. in order to prepare for
        Cyber Polygon 21.
        Of course that’s after having listened to OH and JR in order to get his ducks in a row.

  12. Diesel and computers run this world. They are the two items that control everything. No fuel and there are no ships to move cargo, tractors to plant and harvest crops or trucks to move the items to regional locations. 100% of these actions also require a computer now days. Fuel is used to generate power to run the computer that “manages” all of the above actions. We are actually stuck in a chicken or egg conversation.

  13. If we offer cash in small bills and be willing to round up to the nearest dollar, retailers might be willing to except the transaction. Idea 10 ones and 2 fives in your get home bag and a few twenty’s in your wallet.

    1. I have had DH and self on self-imposed savings plan for years…end of the week, all ones, fives and tens come out of the wallet and go into the savings pot. works very well, and actually has accumulated. will work well for cash and carry only!

    2. @Left Coast: With inflation I recommend $200 in your vehicle safe and $1k in your safe at home with nothing larger than a $20.

  14. Had an incident years ago. We were eating in a pizza chain restaurant when the power went out. I went up to pay and the clerk said he couldn’t take my cash. So i said thanks for the free pizza. Of course he said i couldn’t leave without paying. I said take my money or I am leaving. He then said they would call the police, to which i replied great. I actually found myself speaking very slowly to the the clerk and assistant manager about how to open a cash register without power and entering sales after the power came back on. Had to explain to the A.M. that if he refused payment I was not stealing and the police could explain that if he would hurry up and call. That was several years ago and i don’t think it has gotten better. Can you imagine leaving credit card information written down for any knot head to see, I don’t think so. Cash is king. Debt is dumb. To quote Dave Ramsey

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