postheadericon Tech Talk: Living under the evil shadow


In today's brave new online world, I breathe, eat, and shop online. My burgers come from Foodmandu.com, my American goodies from Harilo.com, and my new friends come from Facebook and my new coworkers are all LinkedIn. My identity and personality has been virtualized into a myriad of usernames and passwords that I can't ever fully account for, as I have dozens, or more.  And all this online life is under an evil shadow, as hackers lurk everywhere...

As an ex-inner city American, this brave new world living under evil online influence is no different than the old world living with muggings, break-ins, and petty theft...only the locks have been changed - they are now on my browser windows instead of my triple-paned glass ones. Instead of writing down PINs on the back of business cards and keeping those in my leather wallet, they are now locked by some indecipherable technology inside of my Google Wallet. Instead of trying to remember passwords with my dog's name and the birthday of my beautiful wife, I have software that generates new ones in strings of encrypted alpha-numerics locked deep in the bowels of my computers and phones.

Yet, with all of this new encryption and daily security updates from hundreds of software packages, I know deep in my heart it's all a facade, as we are truly living under an evil shadow, from which currently there is no real escape.

For decades now, security advisors from such notables as Microsoft Corporation have repeatedly warned us to keep our online identities and details safe from prying evil eyes, yet today www.microsoft.in is down, hacked, with all of it's customer's names and passwords compromised.

And this new MS story is not unique; as there are multiple stories per week of some site being hacked and some large group of user's info being compromised, or of some new vulnerability we need to be aware of and some new security patch that needs to be applied. It's an endless loop of update, hack it, and update again.

Just like fighting crime in the real world seems like a war that will go on forever, so does fighting cyber-crime in the brave new world we find ourselves in today. Our Google Wallet, if lost, will expose just as much as our leather ones. Storing our credit card info online is akin to dropping our plastic cards on the open ground - just waiting for someone to pick up and use. And there seems to be no end in sight...

With group names like Anonymous, EvilShadow, Legion of Doom, Cult of the Dead Cow, and Hacktivismo, hackers and hacktivists alike create and discover vulnerabilities called rootkits, backdoors, trojan horses, and distributed denials of service. Some work for the fun of it, some work for the common good (let's call them hacktivists), and some work for Chinese or Russian botnets with a much more nefarious intent, but rest assured, someone is working out how to break into an online system that you use today.

The solutions offered are laughable: 1) stay offline – not gunna happen for anyone in the future, 2) protect yourself by staying up to date on the latest in security – impossible to do as our resolve weakens over the decades, or 3) spend money on new and improved software tools like Norton Internet Security, along with a host of others – ha – another sad joke on the online consumer.

The situation we find ourselves is predictable, and follows this rule of law: follow the money. We find ourselves embroiled in that age-old adage, "money is the root of all evil." Some folks have it, most don't, and there are millions of people out there trying to steal some. Just as the saying goes "for everything online, there was an once an offline equivalent," it seems that criminality is no exception. We have and still do live under an evil shadow of malcontent and petty crime.

The broader question of WHY is worthy of investigation, and has been for some time. Matthew B. Robinson, author of "Why Crime? An Integrated Systems Theory of Antisocial Behavior (2004)," starts at the cellular level, looking at our DNA and the role of genes and the heritability of antisocial behavior. Another popular explanation of the "root of all evil" comes from Robert Agnew, as described in "Why Do Criminals Offend? A General Theory of Crime and Delinquency (2005)," in which he looks at personality, family, school, peers, and work for the cause of our lack of self-control when it comes to "doing the right thing."

Personally, being the old-school socialist that I am, I think the solution will only come with a global and equal distribution of wealth, but perhaps the technological answer to cybercrime will be a futuristic way of regulating serotonin levels, or even a nanite reconstruction of faulty DNA within our population. Until then, best to keep your eye on your Google (or leather wallet), and continue to trust nothing online as the evil shadow continues to grow over everything we do online - all in the knowing that whatever we do, it's most likely a futile attempt.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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