My Superpower

For its “Top Influencers in Security You Should Be Following in 2015” blog post, TripWire asked me: “If you could have one infosec-related superpower, what would it be?” I answered:

Most superpowers are pretty lame: super strength, super speed, super sight, super stretchiness.

Teleportation would probably be the most useful given my schedule, but for subverting security systems, you can’t beat invisibility. You can bypass almost every physical security measure with invisibility, and when you trip an alarm—say, a motion sensor—the guards that respond will conclude that you’re a false alarm.

Oh, you want an “infosec” superpower. Hmmm. The ability to detect the origin of packets? The ability to bypass firewalls without a sound? The ability to mimic anyone’s biometric? Those are all too techy for me. Maybe the ability to translate my thoughts into articles and books without going through the tedious process of writing. But then, what would I do on long airplane flights? So maybe I need teleportation after all.

Posted on January 16, 2015 at 1:46 PM38 Comments


Anura January 16, 2015 2:05 PM

Omniscience is always the best superpower. Just try to attack someone who knows who you are, what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, when it’s going to happen, and where the attack will take place.

M@ January 16, 2015 2:12 PM

@Anura: The FBI does that with its terror raids. Find a target, compromise someone close to them, set up something that looks really bad, get them on tape agreeing to it, set a date, and attack them the next day.

Matt January 16, 2015 2:23 PM

Omniscience is overpowered. “Being God” is not a superpower, it’s being a deity.

Among the regular set of superpowers, mind control is the one that would be the most useful in real life. Never pick a superpower that can be duplicated with a machine (e.g. what are you going to do with super strength or super speed that we can’t already do with machines?). Never pick a superpower whose use can be recorded on video or directly witnessed, because then the government will figure out that you’re doing it and figure out some way to abduct and imprison you. Mind control is the best because you can do it without anyone knowing about it, and if someone does confront you about it, you can just mind control them to forget about it or leave you alone.

dalek January 16, 2015 2:37 PM

How about being able to go back in time and fix all those security flaws before they happen? (And while you’re at it: kill Hitler too, before he becomes a problem. Oh and also — insert never ending list here — )

Carl 'SAI' Mitchell January 16, 2015 2:49 PM

Omniscience would be a terrible superpower. You’d never get to discover anything. Life would be hell.

And I agree about mind control. That or really fine-grained, really powerful telekenesis, a la Jean Grey as the Phoenix.

But for a computer-security related power, the ability to know of all vulnerabilities any system has instantly would be great. One could make a good living via bug bounty programs, be the ultimate penetration tester, stop any NSA backdoors and the like from going undiscovered, etc.

vas pup January 16, 2015 2:55 PM

Time travel. Ability to stop internal biological system time (stop shortening of telomeres). Universal healing power. Select one?

Spellucci January 16, 2015 3:47 PM

Is the ability to send an electric shock back up the intarweb pipes and zap the originator of SPAM email considered a superpower? I would take that.

CallMeLateForSupper January 16, 2015 4:58 PM

I would use my super power to render bullet-proof every piece of non-malicious, open-source software. The Big Code bunch would be on their own.

I like your thinking: make the modus too expensive. I’ve long griped that I don’t have the means to send a bolt of lightning to each robo-dialer that ignores my Do Not Call registration.

Infrasonicman January 16, 2015 6:34 PM

The ability to transmit super-high-intensity 12 Hz longitudinal waves over telephone circuits.
“Hi. We’re calling with this great opportunity… wha… OH GOD! I JUST CRAPPED MYSELF!!”

THEN you give them the lightning bolt.

Clive Robinson January 16, 2015 6:38 PM

@ Bruce,

What I would want is not invisability as such, but either to appear so average nobody sees or importantly remembers me.

Or a cunning little device from Douglas Adams mind, a generator to make a “Somebody Else’s Problem” field.

But perhaps also a “finger of blaim” where when there is a problem you point it at the most senior person possible and they automaticaly accept the blaim and then roll up their sleeves and muck in with everybody else to sort it out, then buys the beer and pizza’s as a thank you.

Mike Cee (@mxcia) January 16, 2015 8:04 PM

Hmm… How about the ability to impart common sense on infosec-related issues? Oh, wait…. 😉

tyr January 16, 2015 11:46 PM

How about the ability to grant an increase in
intelligence level to those involved with IT
departments ?

They can revert to normal on the way home.

Nick P January 17, 2015 12:10 AM

MKULTRA and Scientology have the answer: mind control. Effective mind control along with good security advice could create a near impenetrable organization. It also has benefits being used offensively. Doesn’t have to be total: instilling certain values and willpower alone can go along way. You get the benefits of diverse thought along with hyper-loyal, careful people.

Alex January 17, 2015 2:18 AM

Saw this on Reddit earlier – ability to “fill up” anything at will… think about it… your gas tank, your bank account, firewall queue, opponents bladder…

Chris January 17, 2015 6:33 AM

the ability to visualize Infosec vulnerabilities like we can see physical vulnerabilities, and to see packet flows like we see people coming and going from. Building.

John Campbell January 17, 2015 6:31 PM

This reminds me of some fiction.

First is Joan Vinge’s CatsPaw where a teep and a teek can go in and manipulate systems.

Mind you, being able to beat Fezzini (“Never bet against a Sicilian when Death is on the line”) would not be (ahem) unwelcome.

Frankly, even being a week teep would not hurt.

Being a cyberpath might come in handy; No wifi network can deny you direct access.

Hmmmm… that last is tempting… no more keyboards! No more OutLook– or even Loathed Notes, elm, pine, mutt, etc– no more editors (no need for either vi or emacs, the war ends!), browsers, need for SSH…

(Remember, keyboards are currently the most reliable input mechanism to get data into a computer.)

Even a limited form of precognition– like my wife’s “police detector” or her “cool parking space predictor” or “clearance department radar”– would keep you a step ahead of anyone who thinks they’ve noticed you. Even if it isn’t really useful for anyone else– since you’re getting a net feed from yourself along a future delta stream– it is likely helpful when dealing with passwords.

“Plateau Eyes” (Niven’s “Known Space”) would be handy and it is, effectively, a form of the “Someone Else’s Problem” field.

Best of all powers? Being able to become Miles Vorkosigan at a moment’s notice!

John Campbell January 17, 2015 6:36 PM

MORFS uses “CyberPath” in the mode I intended, though a broader definition of “technopath” might be nice.


There are times when I wished to have an ability to be an abnotech (I remember reading a story about Abnotechs in Analog years ago; Just proximity cam make even primitive technology fail).

Dirk Praet January 18, 2015 4:44 PM

I’m going with the ability to talk sense into people. Perhaps not a real superpower in the traditional sense of the word, but definitely one that would get you very far. And without the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in the way.

RonK January 19, 2015 6:21 AM

@ Dirk Praet

And here I would have thought that speaking Icelandic without being a native would have been enough of a superpower in and of itself. Or was that you exercising your “make the gullible believe” superpower?

Dirk Praet January 19, 2015 7:32 AM

@ RonK

Or was that you exercising your “make the gullible believe” superpower?

Making the gullable believe requires no superpowers. Convincing smart people to open up their existing reference frame and look at things from a different angle is much harder.

But congrats on mastering Icelandic. What I picked up from my Icelandic neighbours and a short crash course is rather limited. It is not an easy language indeed.

Neil Rest January 19, 2015 7:53 AM

A couple of years ago, I was in a conversation where someone asked for ideas for modern (post-modern?) super powers. I suggested the savant ability to factor enormous numbers almost instantly . . . Someone who could do that and got discovered would be as universal a target as “The President’s Analyst”.

A Nonny Bunny January 19, 2015 12:51 PM

@Carl ‘SAI’ Mitchell

“Omniscience would be a terrible superpower. You’d never get to discover anything. Life would be hell.”

I don’t know if the inability to discover anything would make it hell (I find chocolate pretty enjoyable even though I already know what it tastes like). But I’d grant you that there are probably a lot of things I don’t want to know.
However, we could modify the idea of omniscience where you only know what you choose to know. (On the other hand, pretty much every game where I’ve resorted to cheat codes I’ve ruined it by going overboard; so yeah, I’d probably ruin my life.)

Another general superpower I’d like is shape-shifting.

For infosec superpowers, the ability to fluently write flawless code for any technically achievable end.

RonK January 20, 2015 8:46 AM

@ Dirk Praet

Making the gullable believe requires no superpowers. Convincing smart people

Tsk, tsk. You imply that the intersection between “gullible” and “smart” is empty… (and I’m probably a fairly good, if fuzzy, counterexample).

And, alas, I don’t have any mastery of Icelandic. OTOH, myself, I’ve never claimed to have any…

Wael January 25, 2015 2:52 AM

I want to be able to communicate with animals and insects. The first insect I talk with will be the mosquito. I’ll tell her this: I’ll let you take a couple of sips a day from my veins, or even three meals; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But please don’t spit inside my veins.

Douglas Gourlay February 9, 2015 11:42 PM

Hmmm, though question. But I would want the one superpower everyone in tech would want. The Powerpoint to C++ compiler. You simply dream something up on Powerpoint, and in minutes the brilliantly commented code is available and running, error free with blazing fast optimizations and of course buffer overflow protection and such built right in by default.

The superpower would then lend itself to world domination well.


stevew February 10, 2015 6:25 PM

@John Campbell

I read that same Analog story – I’ve been trying to figure out who wrote it for years.

Allen December 31, 2015 9:00 PM

Icelandic is hard but I know some of every language bc I read a lot , exactly 9 hours on most days off and 5 hours on school days. I’d honestly go with Ability Replication. Any power you see, you can copy. To an extent, even the skills like in combat or mastery over controlling your anger powers.

Allen December 31, 2015 9:09 PM

Pre-deciding is called Probability Prediction. With it, you can always win in a Casino and be the richest person on earth bc whatever negative probabilities you predict you’ll know not to go with so you can predict the perfect probability.

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