by J.M. Porup (@toholdaquill)

95 Theses of Cyber

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the cyber high ground


two columns of power dominate the cyber domain: mass surveillance and targeted hacking

what does this mean?

Who wins on the internet?

In any field of human strife, we must look for the high ground. Warmakers in days of old fought always to seize and hold hills, mountains, points of higher elevation. Why? Because fortune favors those who have gravity on their side. Infantry, cavalry, and artillery all benefit from higher elevation.

But consider how the airplane disrupted traditional thinking about power. What value does a castle on a mountaintop give you if your enemy can fly over and drop bombs on you? Or fire machine guns at you from the air? Or drop paratroopers behind your castle walls?

So too on the cyber domain. We must ask: Where is the high ground? And who is strong enough to seize those strategic vantage points?

The cyber domain, like the aerospace domain before it, makes older ways of thinking about power obsolete.

You may ask, what does warfare have to do with politics? Everything. The history of civilian political organization is the story of offensive military weaponry. Military weapons are never used exclusively against foreign adversaries, but first and foremost by their possessors against the weak and the powerless at home.

Each new technology gives new power to some people and takes power from others. Power means the ability to compel others to do your bidding. At this level of analysis, distinctions between military and cilivian power dissolve: We are concerned only with the raw, naked, beating heart of the human lust to control others.

Because all technology will, in the end, be perverted to kill and destroy – or to threaten to do so.

We need only recall, yet again, the history of medieval feudalism. A gang of early-adopting thugs seized on the power the stirrup and body armor gave them, and used that power to engage in racketeering against the local population. (What is feudalism but a glorified protection racket?) Over the centuries feudalism justified its use of military might against civilians as a divine right granted by God.

So who wins on the cyber domain? Where does power concentrate? We’ve already examined in theses[1] that power emanates from the barrel of security flaws. But a second column of power rises on the cyber domain, one out of reach of anyone but the largest corporations and medium-sized nation-states: mass surveillance.

Sniff It All, Collect It All, Know It All, Process It All, Exploit It All, as the NSA likes to say.

Some argue that, by some divine happenstance, our just and wise overlords at the NSA who possess this power withold their smiting hand. But in the analysis of raw power at scale, the possible is the necessary. What can be, will be. Always and forever amen hallelujah.

The winners on the cyber domain are the feudal lords in secret agencies with the guns (or the proxy for a gun: a court order) to compel collection fo all packets on all pipes that traverse their borders.

Only a handful of world powers are capable of projecting such power, and the secret police of the world’s smaller countries outsource their own population control to larger powers in what, again, can only be described as a new feudal order.

(When Canada’s CSE shares mass surveillance data on Canadians with the NSA and FVEYES, CSE become feudal vassals to their American overlords – and commit treason against the Canadian people.)

The airplane, first conscripted in World War I because of its superiority versus the hot-air balloon when surveilling enemy lines, soon became a weapon to kill and destroy – its primary military mission still today.

In a similar fashion, mass surveillance collects such a detailed picture of our lives that, like air power, it is quickly becoming a weapon not of watching, but of targeting People You Don’t Like (TM) for death.

So let’s talk about hacking. Popping someone’s XP box and messing with their spreadsheets used to be about as big a deal as you could manage. But now the world is becoming information, we, the human race, are becoming information…This is what we mean when we say the human race is moving online.

So hacking is now not about picking the lock on a digital file cabinet for a discreet peek at the accounting records, but about the power to see with your eyes, listen with your ears, speak with your voice – even to silence you, if need be.

Pedantic types will want me to talk about violating the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. This is important: hacking is not about watching: it’s about sabotage.

Sabotage directed not at a digital filing cabinet, but at your own flesh and blood, and that of others.

The plausible deniability of hacking means it is often impossible to be sure who is responsible – or even if anyone was responsible. Maybe it was just a glitch?

Information is power, and in a world become information, those who can access, control, and destroy that information rule the world – and damn whatever rights the people have or thought they had.

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