Rudyard Kipling As a Security Author

A review of Kim:

Kipling packed a great deal of information and concept into his stories, and in “Kim” we find The Great Game: espionage and spying. Within the first twenty pages we have authentication by something you have, denial of service, impersonation, stealth, masquerade, role- based authorization (with ad hoc authentication by something you know), eavesdropping, and trust based on data integrity. Later on we get contingency planning against theft and cryptography with key changes.

The book is out of copyright, so you can read it online.

Posted on December 29, 2006 at 2:11 PM10 Comments


X the Unknown December 29, 2006 3:28 PM

Kim is a great story. It also includes racial profiling, and subversion thereof. Kim, a white boy, uses dark skin-dye to make himself look like just another native urchin, to slip under the radar of various international agencies.

Harmless Historical Nut December 29, 2006 5:45 PM

@X: The old insta-tan trick is easily done if one has access to walnut trees. Either black or english walnuts will do. As they ripen, the outer husk turns from tennis ball green to brownish black and begins to deteriorate. The outer husk has been used as ink and dye since Roman times, but don’t get it on your hands – it will stay there for up to two weeks.

In medieval Europe, if noblemen fell afoul of the local politics and had to flee for their lives, a bit of walnut foo on face and hands would have them easily passing for a well-tanned farm worker in no time.

Kipling might have been as aware of the trick from his own knowledge of British history as from anything he learned in India. Having experienced it myself, I saw that the stuff would work that way.

Chris December 29, 2006 6:48 PM

If you don’t like reading books online there are also several paperback versions sold at for reasonable prices.

Angus S-F December 29, 2006 9:03 PM

Not only can you read it online at the sites you listed, you can download it (and many many other Kipling works) from Project Gutenberg. URL for the Kim page here:

I have a bunch of PG books onto my Palm for those times when I’m stuck without paper reading matter.

Davi Ottenheimer December 31, 2006 2:49 AM

That’s one way of describing him. Something about his writing, especially poetry, always seemed unsettling to me. I suspect it was an undertone (perhaps typical of the day) that a single Empire should serve to guide the lost and willing out of their darkness.

A story like Kim of someone surviving while in-between two worlds is bound to bring up discussion of identity (authentication), trust (authorization), etc. but the bigger question for Kipling seems to be whether or not two worlds themselves should be able to survive. Personally I think while he recognized the control issues of relativity his works advocated a kind of absolute centrality:

“Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

Incidentally, Orwell had some interesting things to say about Kipling’s perspective on security and the Empire:

“Somehow history had not gone according to plan. After the greatest victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before, and Kipling was quite acute enough to see this. The virtue had gone out of the classes he idealized, the young were hedonistic or disaffected, the desire to paint the map red had evaporated. He could not understand what was happening, because he had never had any grasp of the economic forces underlying imperial expansion. It is notable that Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern. Imperialism as he sees it is a sort of forcible evangelizing. You turn a Gatling gun on a mob of unarmed ‘natives’, and then you establish ‘the Law’, which includes roads, railways and a court-house. He could not foresee, therefore, that the same motives which brought the Empire into existence would end by destroying it.”

Matt from CT December 31, 2006 1:18 PM

Not that I’m the best prepared for a philosophical debate with Orwell…

It’s not difficult to argue that there is no such thing as “economic” Imperialism, since all Imperialism is economic…

The description of Gatling guns, roads, railways, and especially Courthouses however rather than “Imperial” are probably more accurately called “Colonialism.”

Tight definition of words is important; some of the arguments about “American Imperialism” boil down to the two debators having different definitions of “Imperialism” — some seeing it the abstract; and others interchanging it with “Colonialism.” One who thinks of Imperialism as Colonialism, simply wouldn’t see modern U.S. policies as Imperialistic. It’s not that either party is necessarily wrong — they’re having a debate in which they don’t even realize they’re using different definitions.

Oh, and “White Man’s Burden” is still fully with us in many forms, not the least of which is “Crimes Against Humanity.” It’s not that I even disagree with such an idea, however many who condem the old colonial attitudes of “White Man’s Burden” in one sentence in the next sentence would extoll the Western-centric values of International Law & Human Rights.

John Henry December 31, 2006 5:11 PM

I first heard of “The Great Game” from an essay that a friend of a friend wrote. I then ran across Peter Hopkirk’s book of that name. It is not fiction but history and discusses the stuff that Kim is involved in. That is what got me to read Kim. I had heard of it but had always thought it was a juvenile book. Although it would appeal to a juvenile, I also found it very appealing, on a different level, as an adult.I’ve read it at least 6-8 times and don’t get tired of it. I had not previously thought of it in the light Bruce mentions but he is absolutely right. I’m gonna have to go re-read it again.

Although “Kim” is fiction, it is based largely on fact. Hopkirk’s book tells what actually went on. He has also written several other books on the area and era, all excellent. For those reading “Kim”, his “Search for the Historical” is an excellent companion.

Also read “The Silk Road” and “Trespassers on the Roof of the World” about the various attempts over the years of westerners to enter Tibet. Most of them unsuccessful.

John Henry

Hari Dang February 13, 2007 1:44 PM

I have been trying to locate, verbatim, the Poem of high altitude shikar by Kipling “The World’s White Roof Tree : “Do you know World’s white roof tree ?
Do you know the windy rift,
Where the baffling mountain eddies chop and change;

Do you know the long days patience,
belly-down on frozen drift,
While the Head of Heads is feeding out of range ?

It is there that I am going,
With a trusty, nimble tracker that I know

For the Red Gods call me out,
And I must go”

Can you help locate this please ? Thank you. Haro Dang, Padma Shri

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