Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, and Cyber War

I watched a fascinating series on Netflix Streaming a few weeks ago (I love my Apple TV and Netflix Streaming).  The series is called "America: The Story of Us".  There were 2 episodes that I found most fascinating.  One was about the US Revolutionary War, and the other was about the US Civil War.  Both of these episodes caused me to draw parallels to our modern society, and the current state of affairs with respect to cyber security (or perhaps insecurity is more appropriate).

Let me explain.

The US entered the Revolutionary War facing off against the British.  If Vegas oddsmakers had been around back then, it is quite likely that the odds that "The Colonists" (that's the US) would have emerged victorious were something like 1 in 1000.  The British war machine was honed to a razor's edge, and they kicked butt everywhere they went.  They were organized, sharp dressers, and knew how to march like nobody's business.

Back then wars were fought in a somewhat organized matter.  Two enemies faced off in a field somewhere, and fighting ensued.  You saw your enemy before you got a chance to knock him off, or he knocked you off.  The side that had the most troops had a major advantage.  One advantage was the intimidation factor.  The other was sheer numbers.  Everyone kept shooting at each other until one side was badly beaten.  The side with more troops generally ended up with more men standing when the battle was over, and emerged victorious.

The Colonists decided to change things up a bit.  Rather than wait until the British got to where they were going an setting up a battle front, the Colonists decided to arm themselves with German style hunting rifles (with rifled barrels), and pick off troops sniper style.  The Colonists hid behind trees, rocks, or wherever they could take cover and simply waited for the nicely organized march of British soldiers to cross their path.  Additionally, The Colonists started targeting the leadership (generals) rather than the lower ranking troops, and began picking them off first.

This OUTRAGED the British.  How dare The Colonists fight in such an "uncivilized" manner?

Civility is an interesting concept.  It is civility that prevents many of us from doing what we would really like to do when someone really ticks us off.  The concept of civility is what the "upper crust" of society counts on to keep things in order.  Once the concept of civility is abandoned, all bets are off, and power tends to shift very quickly.  Generally, those at the top try to remain civil, and those who have abandoned civility end up kicking some serious butt.

What is perhaps most interesting is that those who choose to abandon civility often feel that they are not the ones who have become uncivil.  I am sure that The Colonists did not feel they were being uncivil.  They were fighting an enemy that was oppressing them, as they saw it.  As far as The Colonists were concerned, the oppression was an uncivil act.

So this brings me to the hacktivism we are witnessing lately.  Anonymous and LulzSec have decided that the time has come to take down corporatism and oppressive regimes.  What concerns me the most about this is the fact that we are currently living in a world where economic conditions have led to millions of unemployed people with intimate knowledge of the internal workings of corporate and government organizations being out on the street with an axe to grind.  Loyalty has become a foreign concept to many of these people, and "civility" is in the process of being re-defined.  When Joe Plumber decides that the actions of Anonymous (or Julian Assange, or LulzSec) are better aligned with his interests, things quickly get ugly.

Are we there yet?  I don't believe so.  However, I am very concerned about the current state of "the system", and that brings me to the US Civil War.

Abe Lincoln was a clever man.  He knew how to harness resources and technology.  The North had a vast network of railroads.  It was much bigger than what the South had.  Abe Lincoln decided that it would be a good idea to move troops using railcars rather than making them march, or ride horses.  Moreover, the owners of the railroads struck a deal with The Union, allowing The Union to take over the railways for the war effort.  This, coupled with a massive network of telegraph lines (built along the railways) allowed Lincoln to move resources (people and information) much faster than The Rebels.  It was technological warfare at its finest, and the Union became unbeatable as a result.

Circle back to the "cyber war" we are potentially facing.  The underground hactivist community is manned by quite a few "geeks" with very good knowledge of the cyber "railways".  Communication also seems to be fairly good.   I am not sure how this compares to the knowledge and communication on the other side, but I am going to assume that "the good guys" are perhaps a bit less motivated to freely share information.

I could be way off on these comparisons, and my assessment of the situation, but maybe I am not.  I think I am at least partially on point here, and that may very well be a cause for great concern moving forward.

No comments: