When Technology Overtakes Security

A core, not side, effect of technology is its ability to magnify power and multiply force -- for both attackers and defenders. One side creates ceramic handguns, laser-guided missiles, and new-identity theft techniques, while the other side creates anti-missile defense systems, fingerprint databases, and automatic facial recognition systems.

The problem is that it's not balanced: Attackers generally benefit from new security technologies before defenders do. They have a first-mover advantage. They're more nimble and adaptable than defensive institutions like police forces. They're not limited by bureaucracy, laws, or ethics. They can evolve faster. And entropy is on their side -- it's easier to destroy something than it is to prevent, defend against, or recover from that destruction.

For the most part, though, society still wins. The bad guys simply can't do enough damage to destroy the underlying social system. The question for us is: can society still maintain security as technology becomes more advanced?

I don't think it can.

Because the damage attackers can cause becomes greater as technology becomes more powerful. Guns become more harmful, explosions become bigger, malware becomes more pernicious...and so on. A single attacker, or small group of attackers, can cause more destruction than ever before.

This is exactly why the whole post-9/11 weapons-of-mass-destruction debate was so overwrought: Terrorists are scary, terrorists flying airplanes into buildings are even scarier, and the thought of a terrorist with a nuclear bomb is absolutely terrifying.

As the destructive power of individual actors and fringe groups increases, so do the calls for -- and society's acceptance of -- increased security.

Traditional security largely works "after the fact". We tend not to ban or restrict the objects that can do harm; instead, we punish the people who do harm with objects. There are exceptions, of course, but they're exactly that: exceptions. This system works as long as society can tolerate the destructive effects of those objects (for example, allowing people to own baseball bats and arresting them after they use them in a riot is only viable if society can tolerate the potential for riots).

When that isn't enough, we resort to "before-the-fact" security measures. These come in two basic varieties: general surveillance of people in an effort to stop them before they do damage, and specific interdictions in an effort to stop people from using those technologies to do damage.

But these measures work better at keeping dangerous technologies out of the hands of amateurs than at keeping them out of the hands of professionals.

And in the global interconnected world we live in, they're not anywhere close to foolproof. Still, a climate of fear causes governments to try. Lots of technologies are already restricted: entire classes of drugs, entire classes of munitions, explosive materials, biological agents. There are age restrictions on vehicles and training restrictions on complex systems like aircraft. We're already almost entirely living in a surveillance state, though we don't realize it or won't admit it to ourselves. This will only get worse as technology advances… today's Ph.D. theses are tomorrow's high-school science-fair projects.

Increasingly, broad prohibitions on technologies, constant ubiquitous surveillance, and Minority Report-like preemptive security will become the norm. We can debate the effectiveness of various security measures in different circumstances. But the problem isn't that these security measures won't work -- even as they shred our freedoms and liberties -- it's that no security is perfect.

Because sooner or later, the technology will exist for a hobbyist to explode a nuclear weapon, print a lethal virus from a bio-printer, or turn our electronic infrastructure into a vehicle for large-scale murder. We'll have the technology eventually to annihilate ourselves in great numbers, and sometime after, that technology will become cheap enough to be easy.

As it gets easier for one member of a group to destroy the entire group, and the group size gets larger, the odds of someone in the group doing it approaches certainty. Our global interconnectedness means that our group size encompasses everyone on the planet, and since government hasn't kept up, we have to worry about the weakest-controlled member of the weakest-controlled country. Is this a fundamental limitation of technological advancement, one that could end civilization? First our fears grip us so strongly that, thinking about the short term, we willingly embrace a police state in a desperate attempt to keep us safe; then, someone goes off and destroys us anyway?

If security won't work in the end, what is the solution?

Resilience -- building systems able to survive unexpected and devastating attacks -- is the best answer we have right now. We need to recognize that large-scale attacks will happen, that society can survive more than we give it credit for, and that we can design systems to survive these sorts of attacks. Calling terrorism an existential threat is ridiculous in a country where more people die each month in car crashes than died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

If the U.S. can survive the destruction of an entire city -- witness New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or even New York after Sandy -- we need to start acting like it, and planning for it. Still, it's hard to see how resilience buys us anything but additional time. Technology will continue to advance, and right now we don't know how to adapt any defenses -- including resilience -- fast enough.

We need a more flexible and rationally reactive approach to these problems and new regimes of trust for our information-interconnected world. We're going to have to figure this out if we want to survive, and I'm not sure how many decades we have left.

This essay originally appeared on Wired.com.

Commentary.

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 7:02 AM • 48 Comments

Comments

Frank ConleyMarch 21, 2013 7:40 AM

You wrote:

If security won't work in the end, what is the solution?
Resilience -- building systems able to survive unexpected and devastating attacks -- is the best answer we have right now.

~~

I would counter that we need systems that are not just resilient, but antifragile*. This may require a change in context for how we see and use technology, and based on the evidence (both empirical and historic) I've seen so far, it will require some event to spark that change.

-fhc

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

professor ratMarch 21, 2013 8:07 AM

Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Why not stick to what you know ( crypto) and leave anarchy to the anarchists?
No ones going to miss religion and the nation-state and nobodies going to miss handwringing cop-lovers like you and Bruce Sterling.
You really suck at this sort of commentary.

AutolykosMarch 21, 2013 8:13 AM

@Frank Conley: I doubt such a system would even be possible except for a small system maintained by a much larger (and still fragile) outer system, and probably at the cost of making the outer system even more fragile. Anything else seems to violate thermodynamics.
So we could, in theory, make our government (or perhaps even the police) "antifragile", but that could not benefit society as a whole. And since those entities are means and not ends, why should we even care?

SimonMarch 21, 2013 8:38 AM

@professor_rat
There you are, I wondered where you went. Still living in exile? What ever happened to that 'death ray' invention of yours??
A friend of mine once said 'Some people just want to watch the world burn.'

Mike HelmkeMarch 21, 2013 8:43 AM

Very good analysis. Comforting to have kind of a solution offered.
The bible says "and the system will require everybody to wear a mark on his hand or forehead", and try to kill all who reject it." No more cash, everybody linked to the system, that sounds like perfect security!

anonMarch 21, 2013 8:44 AM

Resilience is a property of 'the whole'. Anti-fragility seems to be more of a function of the whole.

HugoMarch 21, 2013 8:47 AM

It may be idealistic but what about just keeping up the battle for a better society (globally) so that the bad guys become/remain such a small minority that the damage they do remains small even if with superior technology.

John CampbellMarch 21, 2013 9:28 AM

Consider that terrorism is merely an effort to tamper with a key product: Civilization.

Civilization only persists when there can be some form of trust between people. As trust dissolves, so shall civilization, which may balkanize into far more insular sub-cultures with little trust outside a memetic "herd".

Humans have not thrown off the herd/pack drives completely; When on the offense, we form packs, and, when on the defensive, we lean towards forming herds... even if only at the memetic level.

It is easier to trust those who display the same memetic values as ourselves; The other things-- race, creed, ethnicity, has had a tendency to drive people together, but this is being damaged by the knowledge that such relationships based on appearance (for instance) cannot be deemed trustworthy.

(The above example of Stand-Up Philosophy has been brought to you by the letters 'F' and 'U' and the number '2'.)

bobMarch 21, 2013 9:36 AM

@professor rat

Right, yeah, if by "nobodies" (sic) you mean a small and particularly stupid percentage of the community.

bobMarch 21, 2013 9:38 AM

@Steven Hoober

Are you trolling? In case you're not, ceramic guns are hard to detect on MRI, xray and metal detectors.

WinterMarch 21, 2013 10:26 AM

We have been there several times.

With the invention of the bridle came horseback warfare. This "destroyed" all early agricultural societies in Europe. And the waves kept coming (huns, mongolians, turks).

The same with ocean faring sailboats. The Vikings all but destroyed coastal societies and overtook Great Britain.

The solution has always been bigger and tighter communities that could raise bigger armies and better control rogue groups. States did not grow bigger and more powerful for nothing.

The fundamental flaw in this analysis is the parasite's curse:
If the parasite wins, it kills its host and itself. If the terrorists win, they will go down with the society they destruct.

MiramonMarch 21, 2013 10:37 AM

Increasing societal resilience is fine, but it's clearly a stopgap, as indeed was pointed out in the post.

It will be more important to improve humanity itself to the point that these attacks are not conducted in the first place. Whether that improvement occurs through technology (genetic engineering, posthuman singularity blah blah blah), policy and economics (abolishing scarcity), or sociology (eliminating the causes of conflict), it has to happen one way or another or we will eventually destroy ourselves.

The fact that all of the means to "improve humanity" are equally implausible at this point is not very encouraging.

Clive RobinsonMarch 21, 2013 10:40 AM

@ John Campbell,

I 4 1 != 2

Thus not having a desire to be part of a herd makes life a tads difficult under the "Either you are with us or against us" mentality of mob rule.

Which unfortunatly appears to be coming more prevalent in Europe these days especialy in cheap shot politico's looking to score easy "sound bite" credability with those who either cannot or who do not care to think, but just play "follow my leader".

Thus we are showing the same signs and symptoms we saw eighty years ago...

Andrew2March 21, 2013 10:43 AM

@Hugo

It may be idealistic but what about just keeping up the battle for a better society...

By "better society" I think you mean moral and social controls rather than formal or technological controls.

The problem is those don't scale. You can only shame people into not destroying the world when society is small enough that members can be made to feel shame. When numbers of people in a single society get big enough eventually you'll get an outlier, an omnicidal maniac who is immune to social pressures and just wants to destroy everything. If anyone can build a doomsday device in their garage, you have to stop this person from doing it somehow or civilization will end.

In short, we can't all just get along.

vasiliy pupkinMarch 21, 2013 11:05 AM

@Miramon
I agree with you. The root cause of conflicts and their fair civilized resolution should be the primary target, not technology (guns included) which is only tool, not the cause.
When such system of conflict resolution exists, you still can't prevent actions of crazy person (with no motive or reason) towards innocent people, but you could prevent acts of retributions, assimetric attacks just to restore jenerally imbedded in ANY human being sense of balance/ fairness/responsibilty when system is not working or is working to protect mainly 1% minority of population.

bcsMarch 21, 2013 11:10 AM

As far from feasible as it is, interplanetary colonization could well be the easiest solution to this problem.

Clive RobinsonMarch 21, 2013 11:13 AM

@ Bruce,

The problem is that it's not balanced: Attackers generally benefit from new security technologies before defenders do.

Yes but it may not gain them any significant advantage.

The US UK and other countries were invited in to Afghanistan to deal with a problem, which they have singularly failed to do.

Over simplisticaly Afghanistan is in some ways two countries in one such is the cultural divide between those living in large towns and cities on one side and those living in villages and the country side on the other.

Those the west recognise politicaly are those of the towns and cities. Those in the vilages and country side thus regard the West's soldiers as the attackers.

Now using the logic of "technological superiority" those in the vilages and country side should have been disarmed and neutralized within a very short period.

However Afghanistan has proved historicaly over and over again that "technological superiority" is not actually effective against certain types of enemy. We refere to this as "asymmetric warfare", and it is finaly being recognised as an insoluble issue.

What 9/11 revealed and I mentioned it back at the time is "technological superiority" is in some respects an Achilles Heal. What the 9/11 events showed is those that create a technology develop a significant reliance on it and that anyone who then turns the technology on that society cause that society to go in fear of what further harm it's technology can do against it's self.

Worse is that since 9/11 in the US the political leaders have done almost everything they can to make the "technological superiority" nightmare come true on those living in the US.

We now have the quite genuine fear that the product of failing to quell the asymmetric warfare will be turned on the citizens with armed drones and the like flying above cities.

The lesson the WASP nations has failed to learn is that you cannot really win against an enemy who in effect has nothing to lose by fighting, when those in the nations have the fear of lossing everything they have gained from technilogical superiority.

In effect the higher you make your castle walls the further you have to fall when an intent enemy undermines the foundations of those walls.

Andrew2March 21, 2013 12:01 PM

@bcs

Interplanetary colonization buys some resilience for a time, assuming we're willing to occasionally sacrifice an entire colony. But even then it may not be a complete solution. If technology ever advances to the point where a crazy person could destroy the entire solar system, or indeed the entire universe (or just all the colonies), the existential problem comes right back.

John HardinMarch 21, 2013 12:15 PM

This essay is written from the POV that attackers=individual bad actors (or small groups thereof) and defenders=society.

I'd be interesting in seeing a version written from the POV that defenders=the people and attackers=the government.

The cops aren't always the good guys.

David WilhiteMarch 21, 2013 1:10 PM

Seems to me we need to be both resilient and antifragile.

In the context of terrorism, a society that is resilient would withstand the damage and bounce back. We've done well against the physical damage, but lousy against the psychological damage. We can rebuild buildings and even populations (pardon the emotional detachment here). But we also have the larger damage of fear dividing us and causing us to do stupid things with our resources (and lives). So we have shown little resilience. Bin Laden was reportedly pleased to have such a large destructive impact on our resources and psychology. If society quickly rebuilds physically and psychologically, the terrorist’s reward of destruction is diminished.

A society that is antifragile might be one that responds to terrorist actions by uniting against the instigators. We did OK uniting against the terrorists, but then totally blew it with all the infighting on side issues. If societal bonds improve instead of decay, the terrorist’s reward of societal decay is removed.

John HardinMarch 21, 2013 1:42 PM

@David W:

We've done ... lousy against the psychological damage.

This seems to me an unavoidable consequence of the increasing degree we're wrapping our children in bubble-wrap as they grow up. Compare the degree of psychological damage the US suffered from the Pearl Harbor attack (which, granted, wasn't an attack on civilians).

If you protect your children from any possible harm they may experience, no matter how trivial, you're not raising them to be resilient in the face of hardship.

vv111yMarch 21, 2013 5:13 PM

Hi Bruce, I'm very happy to see your level of thoughtfulness and concern.
If systems do well it is a cold comfort for individuals who suffer and lose regardless.
I've been thinking recently about a consequence of our very large population: We could have the largest genocide in history, numbering in the billions, and yet civilization could go on quite well. (As long as it is not the 'torchbearers of civilization' who die).
A disturbing thought.

itgrrlMarch 21, 2013 5:49 PM

@Winter:
The fundamental flaw in this analysis is the parasite's curse:
If the parasite wins, it kills its host and itself. If the terrorists win, they will go down with the society they destruct.

...which works well as an evolutionary pressure to control the blind actions of an organism acting out of instinct. It's not at all useful in a situation where an intelligent (?) actor makes a conscious choice that destroying the 'host' (in this case, all of human civilization) is either irrelevant or desirable because of an imagined reward in an afterlife.^ What do such people care if the 'host' is destroyed? They're heading to the promised land.


^I'm sure there are other motivators - including just plain craziness - that could create a similar scenario, but ideological fundamentalism seems to be the most prevalent instance of it today.

jbeeMarch 21, 2013 6:02 PM

I see the word "terrorist" being thrown around in these comments with the implication that they are somehow mindless irrational killing machines bent on the destruction of civilization as part of their nature. Stop it. Their paradigm may differ from yours, but within that paradigm they are as rational as any human, and probably more so. In the US, terrorist bogeymen are derided as irrational cowards, but how would YOU fight a vastly stronger opponent? Face them on their terms and be crushed? How rational is that? How about striking them where they aren't looking using their own wealth against them? Sounds like those scrappy underdog heroes we love to root for if you ask me.

Bill StewartMarch 21, 2013 6:18 PM

Steven Hoober - That ceramic handgun looks really decorative on the mantelpiece in Act I. Whether it actually gets fired in Act III isn't something the Security Theater Players know at the time, but it gives them their motivation for whatever story you're trying to tell.

WaelMarch 21, 2013 9:32 PM

@ Clive Robinson,

The US UK and other countries were invited in to Afghanistan to deal with a problem, which they have singularly failed to do.

There is a reason Afghanistan is called "The graveyard of the invaders"

Clive RobinsonMarch 21, 2013 11:11 PM

@ Natanael L,

It has a relevant component "L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space"

L is actual considered to be about 200years and the original idea was that it was the time taken for technology to shift from high power radio (capable of leaving a solar system) to the use of fiber optics and low power radio etc.

It has since been recognised that what we should be looking for is very low frequency radiation below around 500Hz as this is likely to be the strongesst power signiture for the longesst time (ie the radiation caused by "AC power transmission systems"). However this has problems which would involve putting "efficient receivers" at the edge of our solar system.

To give you an idea of one problem, you are looking at an antenna of something like 0.6x10^8 meters in length in each dimension.

RobertTMarch 21, 2013 11:29 PM

"For the most part, though, society still wins. The bad guys simply can't do enough damage to destroy the underlying social system. The question for us is: can society still maintain security as technology becomes more advanced?"

IMHO It sort of depends on who you think of as the bad guys.

As technology advances there is more scope to both hide and discover information. I was recently back in the US and was alarmed at the lengths I needed to go to to get $5000 cash from the bank.

In this day and age I certainly dont think of $5000 as a large sum of money, it was to support my last remaining vice Poker. Yet my requests for $5000 cash from my bank met with alarm and advisement that this would be reported, and most likely result in my account being locked. by one or other Federal institution.

This was my WTF is wrong with the US moment. On many occasions I have withdrawn cash amounts upward of 300K RMB (about $50K USD) from my Chinese accounts without anyone even flinching. (same end use as in the US)


So as I said.... It all kinda depends on who you think of as the bad guys....

Clive RobinsonMarch 22, 2013 5:39 AM

@ RobertT,

So as I said.... It all kinda depends on who you think of as the bad guys...

It is a question I've thought about off and on for a number of years (you could call it one of my vices, as it's an activity I don't profit out of ;-)

Well my conclusion for some time is it's the "voice behind the throne".

A little observation and digging will show that we don't live in a democracy, that is we seldom if ever get to vote on substantive issues (that's why we give them special names such as "referendum"). What we actualy live in is called a "representational democracy" but a moments thought will make most people realise it is neither democratic or representational of the voters.

A little further thought will make people realisee that the "monkey see monkey do" nature of our (supposadly) freely elected representatives makes them a captive and very lucrative audiance to those with money.

Now an examination of wealth distribution clearly shows that it is steadily migrating to a very few people who are subject to special tax deals that they have purchased the votes for. On average those at the bottom of the middle classes pay 50% of what they earn in taxation, as you move up the proportion of tax actually starts to decrease (as excess income becomes available for saving/investment). At certain points certain types of tax breaks apply and those with the greatest excess income in effect pay very small fractions of normal tax on their incomes.

Now the fun thing is these very few people (around 400 or so in the US) are actually not interested in making or accumulating wealth, they are beyond the point where their wealth has any meaning other than the status and influance it can buy them.

What scares them the most is the loss of status and influance. They would not care if they actually did not make any money provided everybody else was lossing it faster.

Thus their actual intent is not wealth generation but maintaining or increasing the "status gap". It is very clear when you study some of the machinations the likes of the Koch brothers and others get upto that what they realy want is a "fielty system" back where status is enforced by law almost as a cast or serf system (which is actualy worse than slavery). They would dearly love to go back to the times of a few hundred years ago where people were required on pain of tourture and death to dress in a way befiting the status those above them said they had, such that the staus gap was seen at all times.

So yes my view of the enemy is the almost faceles plutocracy that hides behind the presidents throne, biding it's time and weakening others rights bit by bit by buying influance over those elected officials that are supposed to impartialy wield power as the representatives of the voters...

OtterMarch 22, 2013 6:52 AM

@ Clive

"[...] fealty [...]"

The only wealth that really matters economically is the ability to compel others to obey.

Some people with damaged psyches fear that others will not obey and therefore demand proofs such as symbols of subservience. Some are so badly damaged as to crave proofs such as submission to pain and death.

Most of us get along by sharing.

OtterMarch 22, 2013 7:20 AM

The legal justification for burning to death witches (and protestants) (and catholics) after they had confessed and repented of their sins was that if they were not immediately dispatched to heaven in overwhelming pain and fear, they might recant, thus losing their opportunity for eternal bliss.

Some folks believe that sanctity is possible under the influence of fear.

One defect of fear is that the newly blessed, unless watched closely, may recant and seek to turn against their benefactors.

Empirically, the human psyche cannot live long in constant fear. Eventualy, it either seeks release in oblivion, or forgets and deviates.

Although labels like "crazy" are popular propaganda, insurgents are more sane than those who submit.

OtterMarch 22, 2013 7:29 AM

More accurately ..
Some folks believe that sanctity is possible only when motivated by fear.

Bob RobertsonMarch 22, 2013 9:48 AM

I'm sad to see responses such as by Professor Rat, because distributed systems (anarchy) is exactly what you're saying will be the most effective in building resilience. And I agree.

Crime, in general, is a distributed attack. The bad guys have the choice of when and where to attack. The only effective response is a distributed defense. To use your word, "resilience".

Sadly, the cries for someone else to "save us!", the ever tightening grip of centralized command and control, will only create targets of opportunity and single points of failure.

The more I have learned, the more of an "anarchist" I have become. Your restatement of "resilience" in terms of social tolerance of damage, your examples of losing cities, and the thousands of dead that people take as normal, are excellent.

While the people of New Orleans and New York tried to apply distributed responses to those events, the central planners stepped in and made the problems far worse. "It's not a disaster until FEMA shows up."

Anarchy. It just works better.

John CampbellMarch 22, 2013 10:52 AM

Resiliency is NOT economically efficient.

There, I've spoken the first heresy in a world where everyone is looking for a free lunch.

TANSTAAFL.

Economic efficiency works against redundancy (which is the first step to resilience, though no guarantee, as I've seen organizations only spec their D/R site as a "proof of concept") and, so, encourages a brittle system with "only enough capacity for [FITB]". Consider the fragility of JIT inventory, all to maximize economic efficiency and remove any warehousing of "extra" resources, be it food, medicine or the tools needed to maintain a technological civilization.

Resilience costs.

Profit margins, especially in these times, drive down the ability to staff, much less provide redundant facilities.

If we only had enough, say, hospital beds, medicines, MRI, CT, etc, capacity for "normal" demand, what happens when there's a local disaster?

So, where do we put our money?

Companies want to reward their share-holders (or, if shares are held by an "institutional investor", are pressured to cough up large dividends lest their share prices drop to penny-level) so they face divided loyalties: shareholders vs customers. In most of our current corporations, the shareholders win... and, in case you haven't noticed, customer service is no longer treated as an investment for future quarters.

(rant terminated as I noticed myself frothing at the mouth)

Bob RobertsonMarch 22, 2013 1:18 PM

Mr. Campbell,

You must have me mistaken with someone else. TANSTAAFL indeed. That's another reason central planning doesn't work.

Redundancy within one organization is inefficient. But there is more than one organization, often times engaged in what from the outside looks like "wasteful competition". I believe that's what it was called back around WW1 when the Progressives took over the government and organized cartels on the theory that by eliminating redundancy, that is, "wasteful competition", they could plan efficiency.

But that, right, there, is trying to get something for nothing. Planning a dynamic system doesn't work.

Competition does work. When the power goes out, the price of generators goes up and folks come out of the woodwork to supply them at the higher price. That's why price controls guarantee shortages.

Anyway, I'm always alerted when someone says, "where do we put our money", because usually such a person is deciding how they want to spend mine. I don't want you to spend my money, you go ahead and put yours anywhere you want.

tzMarch 22, 2013 5:13 PM

The problem is that "the police state" is antithetical to resilience.

There are two issues, first the crony capitalism so that connected security theaters are funded over something which might be effective, second that the option to respond to either intercept, mitigate, or repair the damage of a terrorist requires the availability of the same things the terrorists might use.

If there are no people with guns - and we don't have every person deputized and carrying - then the one person that has one can kill for far longer. Even on airplanes, one terrorist who gets a "big" knife through then has an advantage - if there are many who can be equally armed he might kill one but in turn be killed. The terrorists lately have been intercepted by passengers.

We are safer when all of society is adaptable, "makers", and continually and at every moment can adapt or handle exceptions. Not just the few appointed police.

(Perhaps some enlightened sheriff out in fly-over country will allow anyone who can pass a CCW or similar to be deputized with full powers of any other police).

The police find it easier to find people breaking rules, not causing threats (which might be novel or hard to recognize).

FigureitoutMarch 22, 2013 10:02 PM

So yes my view of the enemy is the almost faceles plutocracy that hides...
@Clive Robinson
--So, just curious. What do you suggest young people w/ maybe ~50 years of life or much less do if the majority of their economic opportunities are sucked up? I have some of my own ideas but they tend to be a bit extreme...(maybe b/c I like to be thorough).

drostieMarch 23, 2013 7:30 AM

@Bruce:
I think you're missing something, or maybe a couple of things. One is a sort of "Drake equation for terrorism." There are a lot of things we can attack here -- not just the tech of the terrorists vs. our own, but the total number of terrorists, the number of opportunities per terrorist, and so on. Our real goal is to attack the total damage across all terrorists, but we can approach this by many Drake-like parameters.

The second is that terrorism, like so many other interesting things in science, follows a feedback loop: given a Standard Terrorist Unit of Damage (whatever that is) that we can ask what the expected amount of STUDs are occurring as an immediate consequence of one STUD happening today. If that number is some number K, then there will be a feedback multiplier 1/(1 - K) benefiting the terrorists. So if every attack has a 90% chance of encouraging a similar attack, then there's 1/(1 - 0.9) = 10 times the damage done per "independent" terrorist. They will moreover transition from negative to positive feedback when K goes from K 1 -- in other words, this is the apocalypse you are describing; each attack in one year damages society enough to enable and encourage 1.2 attacks the following year, suddenly we have an exponential progression of damage going like 1.2^(t / 1 year), which will eventually consume society.

So there may be other ways to mitigate the problem, and the problem of social propagation can be phrased in a much more direct language about the social effects of terrorists on other terrorists.

Clive RobinsonMarch 23, 2013 9:39 AM

@ Figureitout,

--So, just curious. What do you suggest young people w/ maybe ~50 years of life or much less do if the majority of their economic opportunities are sucked up?

There are a number of options available (but not to all).

Firstly is to just accept the way it is.
Secondly work within the system to change it.
Thirdly move to somewhere else.
Fourthly wait for the system to collapse

All of which are fairly pointless. The remaining options involve going outside of the system in various ways.

History has taught us about the various barbarians and patriots bringing down the existing order.

However times change, and the rats can not only leave the sinking ship rapidly they can also take most of the "goods" with them, leaving those left behind with little or nothing.

However one thing to note is that inflation robs us of "financial wealth" but not "real wealth". Financial wealth such as money in the bank is doomed to avarice of those who create inflation (the various financial institutions).

Real wealth can be expressed in many ways one used to be the "gold standard" but other limited resource will over time usually balance inflation. As was once observed by "Mark Twain" about what we now call real estate when he advised to invest in land "as they don't make it any more".

Other things that can be thought of as inflation limiting is investment in production of various kinds, provided it is not likely to be subject to preditory technologies or countries. One such iss the current energy and mineral sources such as the petrochem industry and the related mining and refining industry. BUT you need to have a good knowledge to avoid the sharks and pit falls.

Clive RobinsonMarch 23, 2013 11:22 AM

@ drostie,

The second is that terrorism, like so many other interesting things in science follows a feedback loop

Whilst there might be partialy true it is way more complex as it is also a feedforward process.

But at the end of the day dealing with terrorism tends not particularly to follow such models.

In essence there are two basic types of terrorist, "those from within your society" and "those from outside your society". The former are getting rarer these days for a whole variety of reasons thus we mainly consider those from outside our society.

It needs to be sstated at this point that what we call terrorists are usually from a technicaly less sophisticated nation/region than our society.

Such terrorists are usually only to aware of this and as such they have little or nothing to lose and everything to gain by being terrorists. Where as for the general population in our society we have everything to lose and very little to gain directly (I'll leave open the economic resource argument such as cheaper oil as in general it does not filter down in the way you would think).

When dealing with terrorist from outside of our society there are generaly three ways of dealing with them,

1, Not to be a target for them.
2, Genocide.
3, Give them something to lose.

Often the first option is not one the general populous has any control over. In fact history from before the conquest of Africa through to today sugests that various "commercial adventurers" will exploit other societies to a very high degree using various techniques that would be compleatly unacceptable in their home society (ie significantly and harshly punishable under law). And it is the blow back from the activites of the commercial adventurers which often gives rise to what we call terrorism.

On the face of it committing genocide on a nation where terrorists comes from should remove the problem of terrorism... Only two problems, firstly it's compleatly unacceptable to the home nation, the second it realy does not work for a whole host of reasons and the level of blowback is immense.

Which leaves us with the last option of giving the people with nothing to lose something to lose. That is if you establish a mutual dependence it's not particularly in either parties interest to attack the other.

nunyaMarch 25, 2013 5:29 AM

@ bob:

How can you know a ceramic handgun is hard to detect with a metal detector or MRI? They don't even exist (ceramic handguns that is).

Clive RobinsonMarch 25, 2013 7:09 AM

@ Nunya,

How can you know a ceramic handgun is hard to detect with a metal detector or MRI? They don't even exist (ceramic handguns that is)

First off I would not assume ceramic handguns "don't even exist", or for that matter any other gun made from non metalic substances. The fact that they are neither publicaly advertised or sold does not mean that they are not manufactured or have been produced as prototypes for researching their viability.

As a general rule these days the properties of most materials considered suitable for 'engineering in' to prototype or production items are well characterised.

Are ceramics suitable for making hand guns, well that depends on what your design criteria are. They can certainly replace many parts without difficulty. However some parts would most definatly have to be either redesigned or use other materials. I have my own ideas on the redessign of some parts and whilst some items such as springs can be made with none metalic materials they do have sufficiently different charecteristics that questions about useful working life and preventative maintanence will arise.

John HardinMarch 25, 2013 11:40 AM

@Clive:

Are ceramics suitable for making hand guns, well that depends on what your design criteria are.
The most important design criteria is: can withstand a pressure of ~35,000PSI at a thickness of no more than 5mm.

Everybody who waves the ceramic (or plastic) gun bogeyman around always forgets (or intentionally ignores) the breech and barrel. It doesn't matter how undetectable the frame is if you still have to have a chunk of steel in the middle to actually be a functioning firearm.

HowardApril 3, 2013 2:58 PM

If the U.S. can survive the destruction of an entire city -- witness New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or even New York after Sandy ...
Give me a break. Neither event was anywhere close to "the destruction of an entire city." We're not talking smoldering craters, uninhabitable radiation, land swept clean, or even being set back a few centuries in living conditions ...

Even in the worst-flooded parts of New Orleans, much of the underlying infrastructure was repair-able. They didn't just tear out all of the old roads and sewers. And New York destroyed after Sandy? A laughable assertion. Yes, there was plenty destruction, but far, far less than many other major cities after a hurricane, and that's even taking into consideration how New York is generally less-prepared for a hurricane than Miami.

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