Entries Tagged "books"

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The Quick vs. the Strong: Commentary on Cory Doctorow's Walkaway

Technological advances change the world. That’s partly because of what they are, but even more because of the social changes they enable. New technologies upend power balances. They give groups new capabilities, increased effectiveness, and new defenses. The Internet decades have been a never-ending series of these upendings. We’ve seen existing industries fall and new industries rise. We’ve seen governments become more powerful in some areas and less in others. We’ve seen the rise of a new form of governance: a multi-stakeholder model where skilled individuals can have more power than multinational corporations or major governments.

Among the many power struggles, there is one type I want to particularly highlight: the battles between the nimble individuals who start using a new technology first, and the slower organizations that come along later.

In general, the unempowered are the first to benefit from new technologies: hackers, dissidents, marginalized groups, criminals, and so on. When they first encountered the Internet, it was transformative. Suddenly, they had access to technologies for dissemination, coordination, organization, and action—things that were impossibly hard before. This can be incredibly empowering. In the early decades of the Internet, we saw it in the rise of Usenet discussion forums and special-interest mailing lists, in how the Internet routed around censorship, and how Internet governance bypassed traditional government and corporate models. More recently, we saw it in the SOPA/PIPA debate of 2011-12, the Gezi protests in Turkey and the various “color” revolutions, and the rising use of crowdfunding. These technologies can invert power dynamics, even in the presence of government surveillance and censorship.

But that’s just half the story. Technology magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. Criminals, dissidents, the unorganized—all outliers—are more agile. They can make use of new technologies faster, and can magnify their collective power because of it. But when the already-powerful big institutions finally figured out how to use the Internet, they had more raw power to magnify.

This is true for both governments and corporations. We now know that governments all over the world are militarizing the Internet, using it for surveillance, censorship, and propaganda. Large corporations are using it to control what we can do and see, and the rise of winner-take-all distribution systems only exacerbates this.

This is the fundamental tension at the heart of the Internet, and information-based technology in general. The unempowered are more efficient at leveraging new technology, while the powerful have more raw power to leverage. These two trends lead to a battle between the quick and the strong: the quick who can make use of new power faster, and the strong who can make use of that same power more effectively.

This battle is playing out today in many different areas of information technology. You can see it in the security vs. surveillance battles between criminals and the FBI, or dissidents and the Chinese government. You can see it in the battles between content pirates and various media organizations. You can see it where social-media giants and Internet-commerce giants battle against new upstarts. You can see it in politics, where the newer Internet-aware organizations fight with the older, more established, political organizations. You can even see it in warfare, where a small cadre of military can keep a country under perpetual bombardment—using drones—with no risk to the attackers.

This battle is fundamental to Cory Doctorow’s new novel Walkaway. Our heroes represent the quick: those who have checked out of traditional society, and thrive because easy access to 3D printers enables them to eschew traditional notions of property. Their enemy is the strong: the traditional government institutions that exert their power mostly because they can. This battle rages through most of the book, as the quick embrace ever-new technologies and the strong struggle to catch up.

It’s easy to root for the quick, both in Doctorow’s book and in the real world. And while I’m not going to give away Doctorow’s ending—and I don’t know enough to predict how it will play out in the real world—right now, trends favor the strong.

Centralized infrastructure favors traditional power, and the Internet is becoming more centralized. This is true both at the endpoints, where companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon control much of how we interact with information. It’s also true in the middle, where companies like Comcast increasingly control how information gets to us. It’s true in countries like Russia and China that increasingly legislate their own national agenda onto their pieces of the Internet. And it’s even true in countries like the US and the UK, that increasingly legislate more government surveillance capabilities.

At the 1996 World Economic Forum, cyber-libertarian John Perry Barlow issued his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” telling the assembled world leaders and titans of Industry: “You have no moral right to rule us, nor do you possess any methods of enforcement that we have true reason to fear.” Many of us believed him a scant 20 years ago, but today those words ring hollow.

But if history is any guide, these things are cyclic. In another 20 years, even newer technologies—both the ones Doctorow focuses on and the ones no one can predict—could easily tip the balance back in favor of the quick. Whether that will result in more of a utopia or a dystopia depends partly on these technologies, but even more on the social changes resulting from these technologies. I’m short-term pessimistic but long-term optimistic.

This essay previously appeared on Crooked Timber.

Posted on May 15, 2017 at 2:21 PMView Comments

I'm Writing a Book on Security

I’m writing a book on security in the highly connected Internet-of-Things world. Tentative title:

<blockquote><i>Click Here to Kill Everybody
Peril and Promise in a Hyper-Connected World</i></blockquote>

There are two underlying metaphors in the book. The first is what I have called the World-Sized Web, which is that combination of mobile, cloud, persistence, personalization, agents, cyber-physical systems, and the Internet of Things. The second is what I’m calling the “war of all against all,” which is the recognition that security policy is a series of “wars” between various interests, and that any policy decision in any one of the wars affects all the others. I am not wedded to either metaphor at this point.

This is the current table of contents, with three of the chapters broken out into sub-chapters:

  • Introduction
  • The World-Sized Web
  • The Coming Threats
    • Privacy Threats
    • Availability and Integrity Threats
    • Threats from Software-Controlled Systems
    • Threats from Interconnected Systems
    • Threats from Automatic Algorithms
    • Threats from Autonomous Systems
    • Other Threats of New Technologies
    • Catastrophic Risk
    • Cyberwar
  • The Current Wars
    • The Copyright Wars
    • The US/EU Data Privacy Wars
    • The War for Control of the Internet
    • The War of Secrecy
  • The Coming Wars
    • The War for Your Data
    • The War Against Your Computers
    • The War for Your Embedded Computers
    • The Militarization of the Internet
    • The Powerful vs. the Powerless
    • The Rights of the Individual vs. the Rights of Society
  • The State of Security
  • Near-Term Solutions
  • Security for an Empowered World
  • Conclusion

That will change, of course. If the past is any guide, everything will change.

Questions: Am I missing any threats? Am I missing any wars?

Current schedule is for me to finish writing this book by the end of September, and have it published at the end of April 2017. I hope to have pre-publication copies available for sale at the RSA Conference next year. As with my previous book, Norton is the publisher.

So if you notice me blogging less this summer, this is why.

Posted on April 29, 2016 at 1:02 PMView Comments

Data and Goliath Published in Paperback

Today, Data and Goliath is being published in paperback.

Everyone tells me that the paperback version sells better than the hardcover, even though it’s a year later. I can’t really imagine that there are tens of thousands of people who wouldn’t spend $28 on a hardcover but are happy to spend $18 on the paperback, but we’ll see. (Amazon has the hardcover for $19, the paperback for $11.70, and the Kindle edition for $14.60, plus shipping, if any. I am still selling signed hardcovers for $28 including domestic shipping—more for international.)

I got a box of paperbacks from my publisher last week. They look good. Not as good as the hardcover, but good for a trade paperback.

Posted on February 8, 2016 at 2:11 PMView Comments

Malcolm Gladwell on Competing Security Models

In this essay/review of a book on UK intelligence officer and Soviet spy Kim Philby, Malcolm Gladwell makes this interesting observation:

Here we have two very different security models. The Philby-era model erred on the side of trust. I was asked about him, and I said I knew his people. The “cost” of the high-trust model was Burgess, Maclean, and Philby. To put it another way, the Philbyian secret service was prone to false-negative errors. Its mistake was to label as loyal people who were actually traitors.

The Wright model erred on the side of suspicion. The manufacture of raincoats is a well-known cover for Soviet intelligence operations. But that model also has a cost. If you start a security system with the aim of catching the likes of Burgess, Maclean, and Philby, you have a tendency to make false-positive errors: you label as suspicious people and events that are actually perfectly normal.

Posted on July 21, 2015 at 6:51 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.