Making the case for Morse Code

When discussing cybersecurity, there’s no way to discount the importance of innovation as a means to keep a step or two ahead of our enemies. But I wonder if in our rush to innovate, we are unintentionally discarding time-tested technology in a way that might ultimately work against our ability to respond to future crises?

Here’s an illustration. I was a Morse code intercept operator for the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War. At the time, Morse code was one of the most reliable forms of communication and it was difficult to jam. It was used for everything from tracking aircraft and ship movement to tracking weather.

Fast forward about 20 years to 2005, when I was with the Department of Homeland Security, helping to secure the 2005 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Can you guess what communications technology was designated as a contingency in the event of an emergency during the games? Yep, it was ham radios sprinkled throughout the venues –- the same technology we used to communicate via Morse code decades ago.

This anecdote tells us that there is still value in one of the oldest forms of radio communications. But for many, it’s something they’ve read about in textbooks on the history of communications, a communications method no longer taught today. Even the military has all but abandoned it.

I believe this is a huge mistake. We need to be able to leverage every form of communications in the event of a catastrophic failure of our systems. And sometimes, the simplest or oldest methods can be the best.

I have nothing against upgrades to technology, but we need to rethink our government’s communications capabilities and make sure we’ve got some investment in tried and true capabilities.

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Patricia Titus is vice president and global chief information security officer for Unisys. Patricia is responsible for enhancing the existing network security and policies supporting Unisys global employees, while ensuring the continued protection of sensitive corporate and customer data. Prior to joining Unisys, Patricia was the chief information security officer at the Transportation Security Administration within the Department of Homeland Security, where she focused on creating, implementing and maintaining a robust IT security program. Patricia worked overseas in various positions within the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department and various private sector firms.