How to understand the defcon scale

My software and hardware projects

How to understand the defcon scale

Let’s start with an explanation of what is the DEFCON scale from

The DEFCON system was developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and unified and specified combatant commands. [2] It prescribes five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) for the U.S. military. It increases in severity from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe) to match varying military situations.

and a picture of the final result to better understand how it look like

How to understand the defcon scale


The scale is made in wood with 9 LEDs behind each level/number

How to understand the defcon scale

The logic of the scale comes from an arduino Micro with a BLE sparkfun BLE module “SparkFun Bluetooth Mate Silver – ” (which is not used for now). The Arduino is powered by 9V regulated from the 12V main power (used for LED). Each number back light is control by a MOSFET (P30N06LE) driven by the Arduino. There are also 2 buttons for tests to increase/decrease the level.

How to understand the defcon scale



The arduino micro communicate with a computer using USB to receive the level it should set on the scale. It will do that buy driving 5 MOSFET to light the proper panel. It also listen to press on 2 buttons to raise/decrease the level (for test purpose). The code is quite simple.

The scale communicate with a computer to receive its level it should set. The level is computed from my work company issue tracking tool. The computation part code interface with some of my company API and is thus not part of the code…. You will have to code your logic in the python code in the function “getSeverity” which should return an integer between 5 (low level) and 1 (critical level) as the DEFCON standard 😉

The python part should be put in a crontab to regularly update the scale 😉

More picture of the project HERE and the code is HERE.

How to understand the defcon scale

This story appears in the June 14, 2015 issue of Forbes. Subscribe

I recently attended John Mauldin’s Strategic Investment Conference, an annual event that brings together some of the best minds in finance and economics. With some two dozen speakers in two and a half days, the word “intense” best describes the proceedings. I came away thinking that the world is not on the brink of crisis but that crisis is an ever present concern. Most could see a bright future, if only we could transition smoothly from the significant, self-inflicted problems we have amassed since the 2008 downturn.

Most of the speakers identified the major financial bubbles currently threatening our economy–from junk bonds to housing prices and the U.S. dollar–but offered few solutions. After all, we are in uncharted waters today, and neither the Federal Reserve nor Congress really knows which way to go. Our world has become so interlinked that no one wants to take actions that could start a currency or trade war. We live not in a world of policy action but of policy reaction. The Fed and the European Central Bank have become firemen, not statesmen.

The current state of the world argues for defensive posturing. The consensus is that we will not restore normal economic growth without some trauma. While the timing of the next crisis is uncertain, history tells us that overstaying in the market is more costly than getting out early. But is it too early? Since the timing, depth and origins of any crisis are uncertain, let’s take a chapter out of the U.S. military’s playbook for dealing with threats. They use the term DEFCON, which means Defense Readiness Condition or an alert state. For the purposes of your portfolio, think of DEFCON as Defensive Financial Condition:

DEFCON 1–This is where I judge we are today.

    Keep a balance of cash of at least 10%.

  • Invest up to 10% in gold (GLD) and silver (SLV) ETFs.
  • Set trailing stop-loss orders on your holdings with long-term gains.
  • DEFCON 2–Volatility breaks out in the markets driven by a buildup of negative events either here or abroad.

    • Increase your cash position to 15%.
    • Take all your long-term gains; hold off on taking losses until year-end.
    • Set trailing stop-loss orders on all your low-dividend/interest-paying holdings.
    • Invest up to 15% in gold (GLD) and silver (SLV) ETFs.
    • Buy out-of-the-money puts on ETFs that best mirror your remaining exposed positions.
    • Buy some inverse ETFs tied to indexes to offset value declines in your holdings. To short stock indexes I recommend the ProShares lineup; for the Dow 30 use (DOG), for the S&P 500 (SH), for the QQQ (PSQ) and for the Russell 2000 (RWM).

    DEFCON 3–A panic has begun somewhere that has spilled over into the securities markets.

    • Liquidate all low-and no-income equities.
    • Keep ready cash at home as well as gold.
    • Be patient. Turn off the financial TV shows. Free advice is worthless. Let events play out because corrections involve several levels of action and reaction.

    DEFCON 4–The crisis is well under way, with no end is in sight. Central banks are pursuing conflicting goals.

    • Go to the mattresses (for example, cash, gold and silver).

    Investors who need steady income should be aware that while bonds, preferred stocks, MLPs and REITs also decline in a crisis, they will normally continue to pay out interest and dividends and will be among the first to recover because of their high payouts. Hence, you may opt to ride out the volatility in an income security.

    While I have faith that central bankers have learned much about how to handle the next crisis, their first priority will be to protect the banking system and their bosses, i.e., the government. Not investors. When the crisis hits you will hear lots of happy talk designed to calm rather than inform. One former Fed governor at the conference, Larry Meyer, concluded with these encouraging words: “Good luck–you’ll need it.”

    Richard Lehmann is editor of the Forbes/Lehmann Income Securities Investor newsletter and president of Lehmann Fridson Advisors.

    How to understand the defcon scale

    Business Insider reports that “Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa talk show host” has been making profound declarations that, should the Supreme Court strike down anti-gay marriage laws, “It’s going to raise the issue to Orange Threat Level, it’ll be DEFCON 6…” In the first instance Mr. Deace is likely referring the now defunct color-coded threat warning system instituted in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, where orange was second only to the red warning of an imminent attack. On the second concern, Deace completely mangles the DEFCON warning system, and so gives us an opportunity to get our nuclear war metaphors straight once and for all.

    DEFCON is short for DEFense CONdition, and according to the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “The DEFCON system is divided into five different alert levels with detailed, if ambiguous, descriptions and expected actions by military forces at each threat level.” Mr. Deace’s first error is that DEFCON scales from 1 to 5, not 6. To be charitable, though, he likely knew this and was making an exaggerated claim for effect. What then, is DEFCON 5? Again from the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness The lowest alert level in the DEFCON system…” DEFCON 5 is as low as alerts go, and is the traditional status for most military forces. Anytime someone threatens to go DEFCON 5 on you or a loved one, then, readily take them up on their offer as amity should shortly be restored.

    Alert is raised from there with progressively lower numbers. DEFCON 4, the lowest alert we have seen since 9/11, represents “Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures,” but readiness really ramps up at 3. At DEFCON 3, “Increase in force readiness above normal readiness…base security [is] tightened and intelligence-gathering intensified [and] other changes to the configuration of military forces are made,” including the arming of nuclear war-heads.

    The highest we have ever been is DEFCON 2, “Further increase in force readiness but less than maximum readiness.” Parts of the military were raised to DEFCON 2 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where “nuclear weapons … were loaded and could be used at the discretion of surprisingly low-level officers,” according to the aptly titled book DEFCON 2: Standing of the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    DEFCON 1: “Maximum force readiness” has never been reached as far as we know. That is a blessing, as “At this DEFCON level US military forces are ready to be deployed, including preparation for full-scale thermonuclear war.”

    Where does this leave Steve Deace and his claim of DEFCON 6 for exaggerated effect? Going from 1 as full-scale thermonuclear war, and 5 as normal peacetime, 6 would seem to be peace on earth, goodwill to man, with the possible escalation to rainbows spread across the land. Let us hope that such is the power of the Supreme Court.

    about the author

    How to understand the defcon scale

    Jonathan Coppage is a TAC associate editor. He received a BA in Political Science from North Carolina State University, and previously attended the University of Chicago, where he studied in the Fundamentals: Issues and Texts great books concentration. Jonathan also worked at The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. Jon can be followed on Twitter @JonCoppage, or reached by e-mail at [email protected]

    Even after the end of the world, we’re going to need stories.

    Nuke Opera 2020: Think Golf, Not Bowling – Understanding DEFCON Levels:

    In the process of trying to come up with an idea for something short and simple to write about for today’s post, I considered a few topics before deciding that a quick piece about the DEFCON readiness alert system would be a good idea.

    The Basics:

    DEFCON, or defense readiness condition, is an alert system developed by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as a way to streamline communications in the event of a nuclear escalation. The commands became effective in November 1959 as part of a joint agreement between the United States and Canada and were intended to allow the two countries to act decisively in the event of a Soviet missile strike.

    Like other alert systems, both military and civilian, DEFCON levels are meant to be a quick, clear and concise way to pass information on to troops on a local, regional or even global scale. Different US military commands can be at different DEFCON levels, depending on what’s going on in their particular region. For example, US troops in the Middle East might be at a higher DEFCON level than troops stationed in North America or Asia.

    It’s a common mistake in pop culture and other areas to assume that the lower the level the better. When Reagan was shot, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger thought we should go to DEFCON 2, since he mistakenly believed it meant a low state of readiness, just a step above peacetime tranquility. Actually, the opposite is true. DEFCON 5 is, for all intents and purposes, peacetime. DEFCON 1, on the other hand, means that either nuclear war is about to start or the missiles are already underway.

    The levels, from lowest to highest, run like this (Note: the words in parentheses refer to terms used during military exercises to avoid incidents like the one that occurred in Hawaii in 2018.

    • DEFCON 5 (FADE OUT) – lowest state of readiness; essentially peacetime, everything’s fine, nothing to see here.
    • DEFCON 4 (DOUBLE TAKE) – an increased state of alertness above normal readiness; there’s an increase in attention paid to intelligence sources and security measures are strengthened.
    • DEFCON 3 (ROUND HOUSE) – this is the first step toward war; at this level of readiness, the Air Force is prepared to mobilize in fifteen minutes. This is the level the United States went to after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. We went back down to DEFCON 4 by September 14, 2001.
      • A regional example of DEFCON 3 occurred in the Demilitarized Zone along the North/South Korean border in August 1976, when North Korean soldiers killed two American soldiers over an incident involving a poplar tree.
    • DEFCON 2 (FAST PACE) – at this level, we’re one step away from nuclear war; US armed forces are ready not only to deploy but to engage with the enemy in less than six hours. On October 4, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, US Strategic Air Command (SAC) was put on DEFCON 2 and remained there until November 15, 1962. The rest of the US military was placed at DEFCON 3.
    • DEFCON 1 (COCKED PISTOL) – at this level, we’re at war. Nuclear war. If the missiles (among other weapons) aren’t already en route to their targets, they will be soon. This is the highest level of readiness and thankfully we’ve never reached it. Hopefully, we never will.

    In a sign of the times White House officials have finally gotten around to writing out a plan to deal with future cyber attacks that could negatively affect the US homeland and its interests.

    The new guidelines, which were released earlier this week, detail how the government will gauge the severity of cyber attacks, who’s in charge of orchestrating the response, and how urgently the issue needs addressing – a list of protocols that many claim should have been on the books years ago.

    “We are in the midst of a revolution of the cyber threat – one that is growing more persistent, more diverse, more frequent and grows more dangerous every day,” said homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco.

    The scale begins at Level Zero – an attack which has an almost negligible impact and goes all the way up to Level Five, a full blown emergency that has a high probability of impacting highly critical national infrastructure and systems such as the power grid and communication and finance systems.

    How to understand the defcon scale

    Fig 1. The new cyber DEFCON scale

    The scale works by evaluating what the intended consequences of the attack are. For example, if the attack is simply supposed to be a nuisance, like a DoS attack, which temporarily knocks servers offline by flooding them with packets, it gets a low rating while an attack that is targeting the United States power grid could get the highest rating.

    Once the threat is evaluated, most likely by the person who discovered the breach, the plan details who should be notified immediately and what steps should be taken. The one thing the White House doesn’t say however is how the government will respond to these attacks, especially those conducted by sovereign nations.

    It’s important to note, though, that despite cyber-attacks becoming more and more common as technology advances and people gain a better understanding of how to use it for ill, there hasn’t been a level five attack on the US government yet but there’s always a first time for everything. Especially as more and more sovereign nations and criminals begin using robo-hackers to probe and penetrate US networks.

    “There has been no known incident that would be considered a Level Five … The suspected Russian cyber attack on Ukraine’s electric grid in December that caused widespread power outages probably would have been a Level Four – a ‘severe’ event that likely would result in ‘significant’ harm to public safety or national security,” said Monaco.

    Even so, in today’s modern age with powerful emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing potentially getting into the wrong hands it’s always good to have a plan, let’s just hope it never need to get used.


    How to understand the defcon scale

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    How to understand the defcon scale

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    Matthew Griffin

    Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew’s clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

    How to understand the defcon scale

    During March, economic policymakers unleashed an unprecedented range and scale of economic lifelines to businesses and individuals in response to the intensifying pandemic. The array of initiatives is impressive not only for its scale and scope but also in relation to how quickly they were deployed. Within a two week period, policymakers reached the equivalent of DEFCON (Defense Readiness Condition) 2 and, in some cases, DEFCON 1. War-related rhetoric was prevalent in multiple countries.

    How to understand the defcon scale

    As the chart above indicates, we enter April in DEFCON 2 with respect to monetary policy, fiscal policy, and financial regulation.

    Importantly, different sectoral policymakers proceed across the DEFCON levels at different rates. Central banks were the first to reach DEFCON 5. Financial regulators have been straddling the line across DEFCON 5 since most regulators in the advanced economies have informally encouraged banks to provide maximum flexibility to borrowers experiencing difficulty servicing debts or clearing obligations in the trading arena.

    The data from our PolicyScope platform illustrates the dynamic in a dramatic manner:

    How to understand the defcon scale

    How to understand the defcon scale

    Action regarding COVID-19 (which is the term policymakers prefer to use when taking technical action) far outweighed rhetoric from the end of February to the end of March.

    If Capitalism is a failure, then what is the alternative? | Data Driven Investor

    In the current political sphere along its rhetorical voyage, we all can meet face to face with buzzwords such as…

    Some may question whether policymakers have any fire power left to address the pandemic if disruptions and catastrophic loss of life in the advanced economies (which drive global growth) should persist into the summer. The answer is yes, but it is going to be a long haul.

    Central banks and financial regulators can make important, incremental moves to expand existing facilities. Fiscal policymakers can expand stimulus and subsidy support structures. However, there may be real limits on how far these fiscal tools can — or should be — used if tax payments remain suspended as well. The broad substitution of sovereign risk for private risk through guaranteed loans is not well understood from a risk perspective across all credit instruments, from loans to small- and medium-sized companies to sovereign debt issuance. Subsidies can profoundly distort competition and be difficult to unwind later, after the crisis has passed.

    This leaves trade ministers as the main mechanism for additional economic support. As noted above, trade ministers have been the last to engage. This is not surprising. Supply chain disruptions occur not infrequently; they are often remedied within a quarter. Trade ministers are usually the last to issue “WIT” (whatever it takes) rhetoric. Despite an elaborate process to promote cross-border cooperation, trade policymakers are more at risk for taking contradictory action during periods of stress. As noted recently, policymaking at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs sometimes requires policy choices that in ordinary times would generate rancor and concerns about trade wars.

    In the current situation, selected decreases in import tariffs by some countries has been offset by the proliferation of export bans from 80+ countries with respect to medical equipment and, last week, some agricultural products. Extended periods to clear shipments at the dock and at border crosses create non-tariff barriers to imports that exacerbate supply chain tensions. This increases the risk of deep supply chain ruptures that will be far more difficult to address. As we noted in this research note for the Mercatus Center last week, the time has come for trade ministers to take comparably broad and bold action to their fiscal, monetary, and financial regulations colleagues.

    The global pandemic has not yet peaked. Policymakers can continue to relax rules and stay within DEFCON 4 for quite some time. The next moves will likely be technical and incremental in most areas. The trade and fiscal policy arenas will likely see the most action in the near-term.

    So stay tuned. Our PolicyScope platform will capture every incremental move as the pandemic peaks and then again when the economy is ready to return to normal.

    An earlier version of this post originally appeared at Traders Insight hosted by our strategic partners at Interactive Brokers in order to promote tomorrow’s webinar with them. Blog members are more than welcome to join us tomorrow (April 7) at noon EST to see what today’s platform data tells us about tomorrow’s policy trajectories. Please use THIS LINK from Interactive Brokers to register for the webinar.

    Posts Tagged ‘Defcon understanding’

    DEFCON ‘After Action Report’

    Well, another DEF CON hacker conference has ended without errant nuclear missile launches or national scale telecoms take downs. We can either breathe a sigh of relief, or try to understand what these types of hacker/ activist gathering are all about.

    This year’s conference, DEF CON 19, was held in Las Vegas (as it is each year since 1993) August 4th to August 7th. While not able to personally attend, I did learn a great many things. Incidentally, learning and sharing are central themes at hacker gatherings, great quantities of information are disseminated and voraciously consumed.

    This DEF CON there were over 170 speakers talking about everything from computer hacking to picking locks to social engineering. Many of these talks were of a highly technical nature which would have gone over my head during the introductions. But many other talks were in easy to understand terms and readily accessible to people with even just a brief interest of the subject.

    Another great feature of DEF CON (and many other hacker gatherings) are the various hacker related contests. Perhaps the best know game is ‘Capture The Flag’, an epic hacking battle by teams of caffeinated enthusiasts. High scorer in these competitions get major bragging rights. This DEF CON there were over 40 contests of different types. Something for everyone!

    Many lay persons might imagine that many federal officers from many diverse federal agencies might ‘sneak in’ under cover and try to snag wanted hackers. The truth how ever is always stranger than fiction. This DEF CON (and all others) was attended by agents from FBI, DoD, NSA and others. What the heck were they doing there if not arresting hackers? Trying very hard to hire them! Hackers are in great demand. Think of a large job fair. Surreal.

    While people in general may frown down on ‘hackers’ or even feel they are all criminals (some are), hackers do serve a real purpose in our world, uncovering vulnerabilities and forcing patches and repairs to software and systems. Associating with the right people can give you insights on how to protect your self and customers, and help you prepare for attacks that seem to come from left field.

    While I was in the military (a few years before the end of the cold war) we were made to learn soviet tactics. Knowing something about hacking is the same idea. It must be a good idea too. How do I know? Just ask the Fed’s.

    Help improve this article


    How to understand the defcon scale

    The defense readiness condition (DEFCON) is an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces. [1]

    The DEFCON system was developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and unified and specified combatant commands. [2] It prescribes five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) for the U.S. military, and increase in severity from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe) to match varying military situations. [1]

    DEFCONs are a subsystem of a series of Alert Conditions, or LERTCONs, that also includes Emergency Conditions (EMERGCONs). [3] There is no single DEFCON status for the country, and in fact different branches of the military can be at different levels of DEFCON at the same time. DEFCONs should not be confused with similar systems used by the U.S. military, such as Force Protection Conditions (FPCONS), Readiness Conditions (REDCONS), Information Operations Condition (INFOCON) and its future replacement Cyber Operations Condition (CYBERCON), [4] and Watch Conditions (WATCHCONS), or the former Homeland Security Advisory System used by the United States Department of Homeland Security.


    • Levels 1
    • History 2
      • DEFCON 2 2.1
        • Cuban Missile Crisis 2.1.1
        • Gulf War 2.1.2
      • DEFCON 3 2.2
        • Yom Kippur War 2.2.1
        • Operation Paul Bunyan 2.2.2
        • September 11 attacks 2.2.3
    • Operations 3
    • In other media 4
    • See also 5
    • References 6


    DEFCONs vary between many commands and have changed over time, [2] and the United States Department of Defense uses exercise terms when referring to the DEFCONs. [5] This is to preclude the possibility of confusing exercise commands with actual operational commands. [5] On 12 January 1966, NORAD “proposed the adoption of the readiness conditions of the JCS system”, and information about the levels was declassified in 2006: [6]

    Readiness condition Exercise term Description Readiness Color
    DEFCON 1 COCKED PISTOL Nuclear war is imminent Maximum readiness White
    DEFCON 2 FAST PACE Next step to nuclear war Armed Forces ready to deploy and engage in less than 6 hours Red
    DEFCON 3 ROUND HOUSE Increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes Yellow
    DEFCON 4 DOUBLE TAKE Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures Above normal readiness Green
    DEFCON 5 FADE OUT Lowest state of readiness Normal readiness Blue


    After NORAD was created, the command used different readiness levels (Normal, Increased, Maximum) subdivided into eight conditions, e.g., the “Maximum Readiness” level had two conditions “Air Defense Readiness” and “Air Defense Emergency”. [6] In October 1959, the JCS Chairman informed NORAD “that Canada and the U. S. had signed an agreement on increasing the operational readiness of NORAD forces during periods of international tension.” [6] After the agreement became effective on 2 October 1959, [6] the JCS defined a system with DEFCONs in November 1959 for the military commands. [2] The initial DEFCON system had “Alpha” and “Bravo” conditions (under DEFCON3) and Charlie/Delta under DEFCON4, plus an “Emergency” level higher than DEFCON1 with two conditions: “Defense Emergency” and the highest, “Air Defense Emergency” (“Hot Box” and “Big Noise” for exercises). [6]

    DEFCON 2

    Cuban Missile Crisis

    The highest confirmed DEFCON ever was Level 2. During the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 22, 1962, the U.S. Armed Forces (with the exception of United States Army Europe (USAREUR)) were ordered to DEFCON 3. On October 24, Strategic Air Command (SAC) was ordered to DEFCON 2, while the rest of the U.S. Armed Forces remained at DEFCON 3. SAC remained at DEFCON 2 until November 15. [7]

    Gulf War

    On January 15, 1991, the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared DEFCON 2 in the opening phase of Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. [8]

    DEFCON 3

    Yom Kippur War

    On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a joint attack on Israel resulting in the Yom Kippur War. The U.S. became concerned that the Soviet Union might intervene, and on October 25, U.S. forces, including Strategic Air Command, Continental Air Defense Command, European Command and the Sixth Fleet, were placed at DEFCON 3. Over the following days, the various forces reverted to normal status with the Sixth Fleet standing down on November 17. [9]

    Operation Paul Bunyan

    Following the axe murder incident at Panmunjom on August 18, 1976, readiness levels for American forces in South Korea were increased to DEFCON 3, where they remained throughout Operation Paul Bunyan which followed thereafter. [10]