By Rick Sutcliffe
High and low perceptions of technology are relative to an individual’s “normal.” Just now, the Spy has finished his annual task of pressure washing the house, then putting some water on the squash and cucumber patch.
To someone living in Western society, small engine machines like pressure washers, string trimmers, generators, chain saws, lawn mowers and tractors are low technology–even to a city slicker who may not have heard of, much less used, any of these. Seen in use, all would be obvious and not particularly exciting–except perhaps to three-year-old grandson Gregory who would as, “But how does it work, Grandpa?”
Someone transported from a third world city slum would have less context, and might marvel, but to an Amazon jungle dweller, all would seem indistinguishable from magic–no concept of electricity or tap water, much less of the internal combustion engine, vinyl siding, or lawns. He or she might do well with a bow, however, even understand the utility of a crossbow. But driverless cars? What’s a car? Instant messaging? What’s that and why do you want to do it? Facebook? What’s a book?
Computers, robots, nuclear energy, and space travel were science fiction before WWII, and are now taken for granted. When the Spy first discussed the PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance) in this space decades ago, his universal database access and communications tool — complete with ear, eye, and throat implants — was dismissed by some as fanciful dreaming.
But the iPhone and its imitators have taken us partway there, and the remaining pieces are coming. Keep in mind, though, that glasses for virtual reality or incorporating a computer monitor screen are baby steps. These interface functions will eventually be built-in to contacts or replacement eye lenses. A throat mic and wireless ear bud would complete the interface.
‘Course that combination too is but a step along the way to a direct brain implant/interface. Who needs to press buttons to find the tangent of twenty-two decimal four eight radians to forty decimal places when the very thought triggers the implanted MPU and the answer appears in both biological memory and simulated eyesight (no special lens needed.) Read my novels.
Hacker attacks become more common and more debilitating as time goes by, and the black hats’ technological know-how catches up to or surpasses that of the white and grey hats’. Just as in the 19770s, the Spy thought it futile to copy protect disks because anything that could be loaded into a computer in the clear could be read and disassembled in the clear; now file and message encryption offers more value to the bad guys than to the upright citizen.
See, another of the Spy’s old predictions was that we will gradually have to get used to the idea that privacy is becoming extinct. Anything that can be encrypted can be decrypted–and quantum computing at least (even if not some lower the first) will render decryption a trivial task. Anything that can be recorded, entered in a database, or sent as a message can be read. (Mail is not private.) On the one hand, little sister will be able to see what big brother is doing, and OTOH, nothing little brother does will be hidden from anyone else. Get used to it.
But returning to the stated topic, how do we protect ourselves from vandals who deface websites, steal identities, slander us to the online public, or put their stick electronic fingers into the folds of our virtual wallets?
In the long run, the Spy suspects we cannot. Just as giving an junkie free drugs and “safe” injections never permanently reduces but only postpones potentially fatal harm (and likewise giving power to people who abuse authority results in them abusing it even more when they think they have it), so the only real solutions are to change the person’s habits, so also in the long run, changing vandals’ behaviour is the only reasonable goal.
But since Western “liberal” society has long eschewed the idea of a universally applicable morality, “doing the right thing” and “not doing the wrong thing” has come to have little meaning for most people, except when framed as pleasure or monetary self-interest. What to do?
Some immediate low-tech defensive responses are easy. Hang up on the phisher whose robocall begins “Our records show you have not updated your free Google account” or the heavily accented human voice whose spiel begins “This is the technical department. Your Windows machine needs…”, “or “Your granddaughter was arrested during her European trip and needs bail money…”.
Junk and use your server control panel to permanently block unknown and unsolicited senders of mail that purport to offer products or services online, or that want to renew your domains or hosting, but are not from your provider, accept attachments only when you have asked for them (or not at all), and keep image and remote content display in email turned off.
Never surf the dark web. Its sites can be counted on to be infected with malware. Hacked? Anyone’s web site can be hacked once, but if it happens twice change hosts because yours is not learning.
In other words, in the short term, we and our Internet providers need to be more defensive–employ firewalls, harden servers, be more deliberate about password security, collect, distribute, and ban the addresses of vandals from our servers, use Cloud Linux to isolate accounts on shared servers, accept mail only from addresses with a valid reverse DNS record, and…well, the list is a long one.
In the longer term, all this is insufficient. There are high-tech ways to crack into almost anything, as some of the more sophisticated recent attacks have clearly shown. Lacking much concern about the next life’s consequences, society needs to define and deploy powerful disincentives in this life to deter vandals.
A central clearing house of personal information on phishing attempts with sufficiently detailed information on company and individual perpetrators and a total ban on their Internet use might serve–after all, since the day is coming when it will be impossible to keep the identity of vandals secret, and even changing electronic identities will (eventually) not help the perps.
Hey, if we are heading for total loss of privacy, perhaps it can be turned to good use. One way of achieving this would be to require biometric sign-on to a brand new Internet, while cancelling the old one. Are there better solutions out there?
Further on implanted devices
The Spy notes that Wisconsin-based Three Square Market is offering RFID implants into the hands of employees for making on-site purchases, logging in to computers, and using the copier. These could also be used to open suitably equipped doors (as in many card lock systems already in use), and may have wider commercial applications. Three Square Market reports that about 50 employees have accepted.
Well…no. This could be useful for such very low security/risk purposes, but is entirely unsuitable for secure or mission critical access. Quite apart from the fact that RFID is hackable with readily available tools, the kind of people who want illicit access to secure facilities would have little hesitation in stealing such chips, even with hand still attached. Biometrics with a double confirmation (say, fingerprint and retina) would be better; a fast DNA analyzer better still. But there are undoubtedly ways to hack both.
Enom/TuCows sent out an apologetic e-mail recently over their recent dreadful service, promising to do better. No improvement as yet. The Spy’s last trouble ticket was not answered for three weeks, and the reply was a non-answer that solved nothing. Completely unacceptable to wait more than one day in this business.
Meanwhile his web hosting and name service companies are losing customers over this ridiculous fiasco. Something has to give. Lack of properly deployed low technology (knowledgeable service reps giving real answers) is killing a high-tech giant’s reputation. Perhaps the whole mess needs to be taken over by people who know what they are doing.
–The Northern Spyhack voting machines,
Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level.
He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972.
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