Attack of the Killer Internets
June 22, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — There are terrible things happening in the world, but you don’t know about them because they’re secrets. If only someone from the government would tell us as much as they can about these terrible things, then we would know and understand why the government needs to do something about them. Then, we would get it. Then, we would understand.
The irony is that this isn’t the ranting of some crazed wingnut, but an op-ed in Newsday, the paper of record for Cablevision subscribers.
As you read these words, there are groups of computer experts in Russia and China, probably Iran as well, developing ways to “take down” parts of the American economy: a piece of our electricity generation and transmission system, weapons systems used by our military, a slice or two of our financial and banking systems.
Oh my! We like electricity. It makes our televisions and air conditioners work. And what if our financial system crashed. What would happen to our pension?
Get an experienced intelligence official or national security expert alone and ask what worries them the most, and their answer will be a cyber-attack.
Details about most past cyber-attacks — many of those on financial institutions, for example — have been classified by the federal government. So how is the American public to learn about the character and pace of the threats building up? How are we to hold our elected officials accountable for doing something about it?
Of course, the writer of the op-ed, Peter Goldmark, knows the right people, and we don’t, which is why he’s trying to explain to us that the sky is falling, and we need to listen to him because he knows stuff.
Except pretty much everybody who doesn’t have their head completely immersed in sand is well aware of the fact that cyber-attacks happen. There are countries who want to take us down, China having shown some exceptional proficiency at it, just as we want to do the same to them. Or, at least have the ability to do so, should it prove prudent.
But the sort of secret hysteria whipped up by these mainstream media Chicken Littles has a more nefarious aspect. It’s not that we live in a world without threats. We do. We always have. We likely always will. But the “solution” to these mystery disasters is morphed into a matter of trust.
The government can’t really give us the details of these threats that would end our way of life, but they’re real because guys like Goldmark, and if he gets his way, select politicians who see things as he does, say so. And we must trust them, because, you know, reasons.
And the next step is the curtailment of rights and freedoms, of internet backdoors to let the government into our browser histories, of NSA metadata collection, of our world. It’s not that the government wants to know what we’re up to, just in case, but that they’re protecting us from the evil Chinese. And Iranians. We may be split on the evils of the Chi-coms, but everybody hates the Iranians, right? We must stop them, even if they aren’t doing anything. Yet.
When the government tells us that we must let them do whatever they want to do, who are we to argue? Do we want the sky to fell, as Goldmark insists it will? Would we want that on our shoulders, the end of life as we know it? So let them protect us, save us from the invading digital hordes. It’s the only way.
Or is it? Like Goldmark, I know a few guys in government, and out, who have more than a passing familiarity with cyber attacks. And there are problems, though not likely the ones Goldmark has in mind.
It’s not that the Chinese (or Iranians) have smarter computer guys than we do, but that our government won’t let the smart ones help. A lot of really savvy hackers would be happy to lend the government a hand, but they are also the sorts of people who do stuff like download MP3s illegally and, gasp, smoke the occasional joint. Hackers can be like that, you know.
So the government, which cannot negotiate with terrorists or tokers, won’t let these miscreants help out. To a significant extent, this means that the best and brightest our country has to offer when it comes to cybersecurity are kept far away from the keyboards, lest they play a bootleg version of Taylor Swift as they save our nation from disaster.
But what of the mighty multinational corporations who are made to look like cyber- donkeys when the bad guys ping? They aren’t susceptible to hacking any more or less than anyone else, but make choices to open web pages that haven’t been adequately vetted for errors in a rush to
get your money serve you better.
Most attacks are directed at the obvious, password glitches that could be vastly improved upon if these corporations wanted to take the time, spend the money, to make sure they weren’t exposed. But they aren’t, and they don’t. So they get hacked. It’s just another cost of doing business.
Is the problem real? Sure, it is real, to the extent that there is a never-ending stream of people from other countries looking to exploit flaws in our cyber-security. But the solution we’ll be told about won’t involve hiring a bunch of potheads telling corporations not to put up websites that expose the social security number of every customer they’ve had since 1993. The solution will be grand, insidious and require us to surrender more of our privacy, our freedom.
And many will happily do so, because they know all about the sky falling, having learned this terrible secret from guys in the know, like Peter Goldmark.
Main image via Flickr/Adam Thomas