Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Security of Our Society: The Emperor IS Naked–Now What?

Reading the news that the hacker group Anonymous hacked the website belonging to the US Sentencing Commission should be a wake-up call to people in the West but I suspect for most people the news will fall on deaf ears.

I participated in an invitation-only national emergency preparedness meeting a couple of weeks ago where the presenters discussed the likelihood of our society being destroyed or disabled by different events over the coming decades and how prepared we are as a nation and as individuals to prevent or survive these events.

I didn’t sleep for a week - we live a more precarious Life than we care to think about.

Unfortunately, as in the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, pretending we are prepared for the real world and actually being prepared for the real world are not the same thing.  As the Emperor relied on the “wisdom” of shysters who proclaimed how great he looked, we often rely too much on the “wisdom” of self-described experts who tell us how safe we are when they don’t really know (or they know otherwise but won’t admit it).

The great challenge in today’s world is that the “child” who cries out that the Emperor is naked is hushed up or discredited for uttering the “ignorant words of a child”.  Meanwhile, others who think that the child may be right are silent for fear that they will be branded the same way.

Remember when the Stuxnet worm attacked the nuclear facilities in Iran?  Few in the west cared because “someone else” was taking out “the enemy”, even though there was evidence to suggest that the US government participated in its creation. 

Many of us who declared that this worm, whose source code was now publicly available for anyone to use  (including terrorists) and could be used against our own society, were dismissed as fear mongers. 

After all, one thing we have perfected in society when it comes to dodging accountability and responsibility is the art of discrediting or intimidating the people whose message we don’t like.

Meanwhile, few Americans paid attention when it was announced that two unnamed US power plants were disabled by similar attacks.  Whether Stuxnet-related or not as alleged experts argued over the nature of the attack, what matters is that a vulnerability had been successfully exploited as many of us had predicted would happen.

The warning shot had been fired but we couldn’t hear it over our need for personal overindulgence or in fairness, because many people are fighting just to stay afloat from one day to the next and don’t have the time or energy to see the bigger picture.

Do you really want to know how vulnerable we are?

The ability for Anonymous or other groups to be able to freely take down any website of their choice, whether a government website, a bank, a credit card company or anything else should be a wake-up call to people.

What happens if someone using the same techniques disables our communications infrastructure, our energy distribution, our water supply systems or similar systems?

What happens if our military or civil defence systems are compromised as a precursor to a larger event, including an event planned by another country?

The experts tell us that it can’t and won’t happen.  Unfortunately, their track record speaks volumes otherwise as our compromises to-date prove.  Their efforts are more directed to managing public relations then they are to really solving the problem.

Those of us who have worked on many of these systems will tell you that it can and it will happen - that such compromises are a matter of “when” and not “if”.  Even President Obama knows this but we are doing little of measurable value to protect ourselves.

These larger, more painful, more dangerous attacks will happen unless we get a lot more proactive and a lot more intelligent about admitting the compromised, vulnerable state that we are in.

After the admission, we will have to endure the quick wave of panic, followed by the more powerful wave of indignation that we allowed things to get this far.

Hopefully that indignation will then be followed by a resolution to make the world a better place.

Because it doesn’t become a better place merely through secrecy, indifference, apathy or crossing our fingers in the hopes that everyone is good and that everything is secure.

And while I don’t condone what Anonymous does, their actions and results in the name of social justice demonstrate our vulnerability and our weakness – socially, legally and from an national security standpoint.

What happens if someone uses the same techniques to take advantage of our vulnerability for a more nefarious reason?

It wont’ be their fault.

It will be ours – for being afraid to admit that the problem exists and for not having the courage, wisdom and strength to demand accountability and responsibility to create solutions to make our society stronger on all levels.

And so the “Emperor” that is our society is stark naked.

Let’s not be afraid to call it as it is and do something about it ….

…. while the opportunity is still within our reach, an opportunity that may be a narrower window than you might be comfortable with.

In service and servanthood,


PS The feel-good stuff that many people like to distribute, some with an effort to hide or ignore the difficulties we face, does have an important place in society.

However, it will take effort on our part to rid the world of as much evil, ignorance, apathy, indifference and stupidity as we can so that future generations will still have feel-good stuff to be inspired by.

A strong, positive future is not a right.

It is something we choose to earn and create ….. or not.

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