Tuesday, July 20, 2010

People who know how to cheat will soon be on the front lines of cyber defense.

The title for this post is a quote from a recent NPR story on cybersecurity.   I read the story and a source document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) with mixed emotion.  From the CSIS report:
The nation and the world are now critically dependent on the cyber infrastructure that is vulnerable to threats and often under attack in the most real sense of the word.  
From any perspective--strategic, military, identification theft, extortion, terror--the vulnerability of our cyber infrastructure is frightening.  And, from the perspective of a citizen, educator, and parent, some of the underlying assumptions are markedly, well, troubling. One example, from the related National Security Council report:
While billions of dollars are being spent on new technologies to secure the U.S. Government in cyberspace, it is the people with the right knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement those technologies who will determine success.  
 It is, most definitely, people who are creating both the problems and the solutions.  Highly intelligent, out-of-the box (trite, I know) thinking, creative, problem-solving people.  People who must understand how to break something in order to know how to build it to withstand breakage.  
The analogy is physicians who must understand etiology in order to heal.

But the concern (for me) comes when we reward those who cheat the system, simply for beating the system.  It's a subtle distinction, I know, but we have strong punitive measures (beginning with The Hippocratic oath) for physicians who create illness or do harm.  It's a slippery slope to reward hackers for hacking, rather than for building.  Take a few minutes to read the links, think about the implications, and work out your own position.  It's harder than it sounds.


  1. Similar dilemma I think to something the writer Matt Mason calls the Pirate's Dilemma. In his book, not worth getting in my opinion, he discusses his thoughts on piracy and how it is changing the information game and asks how we should respond. Do we fight pirates in the courtroom, spending dollars and effort to penalize the behavior or,do we learn from them which means accepting a behavior that most recognize is wrong? Is piracy actually a new business model, simply a a problem, or maybe even a solution in today's marketplace? Does and can society establish rules in the game in which behavior which has been unacceptable becomes a part of the game, a competitive tool in one arena and illegal in another or do we just not play the game? The slippery slope......different act, same stage.

  2. Love this comment...thank you. And the first place I went when I read "Pirate's Dilemma" was piracy on the high seas...equally applicable across venues and decades.

    The nuances are a challenge in the classroom, but a far bigger challenge in my role as a parent. There are no new stories, just new stages.

  3. And far more important in your role as a parent than anywhere else. No pressure there. Whatever society may or may not do with this dilemma or any of the others it faces, ultimately what happens will come down to what we each do individually to live our own realities and how we pass that reality to our children. If it is possible as Hesse suggests possible to follow every law and be a bastard and to follow none and be a good man, then perhaps it matters less what government does or doesn't do than what we teach one another and especially our children.

    Good stuff here. And good learning through teaching across venues and stages.

  4. Mmm, you leave me pondering language and intention in addition to slides in this one. I think the term hacker in the early days of computing was a term used to describe someone who was basically a computer geek,who took things a part in order to figure out how it worked and then put it back together again. And yet as computers have become more integral to our lives and to our sense of security, the term has become one used mostly in a derogatory sense. It seems to me that a shift in our perception of any "profession" occurs when the few who have nefarious intentions for that role get all of the attention and perhaps reward while the many who have good intentions remain in the background, sometimes rewarded, sometimes not.

  5. There are other professions where the few have generated the label for the many. Yes, it's troubling and indicative, perhaps, of general decline...whether limited to the profession or a reflection of the larger society is another question.

    And choosing to exercise responsibility on an individual level (to the post before yours) is quite the challenge to us all. If we are to be the teacher-model for our children, many of us are ill-prepared. Yong Zhao's latest (see the blog list) is right on target.


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