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Not With a Bang But a Twitter: Interwebs Bring New Dark Ages

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If you already feel that you're getting your pocket picked online, if you fear that someday you'll follow a "you shhould see this picture of you" link and download a virus that reprograms your washing machine to rape and murder you, if you suspect this whole hyperindividualized disintermediated dream of gigareinvention at tera-velocity is going to end badly, Quentin Hardy is your man.

The elegantly named Forbesman falls under the spell of Joseph Menn's new book Fatal System Error, a study of what they used to call "cybercrime." In all those DOS attacks and phishing mails, Hardy sees chaos rising:

For most people over most of man's time…history is more like a mob movie than a courtroom drama: The Vikings burn the village, the Huns or Mongols ride through with swords, child soldiers arrive in pickup trucks. Violence is the only argument. That is history, too chaotic and reactive for any organized telling.

The mayhem Menn portrays is not that stark, but it seems closer to that than to a world of rules and order. Cybergangs rise and fall in varying degrees of anonymity and alliances with Russian, Chinese and other governments that are more ad hoc than understood. Norms of behavior among individuals and governments are a moving target. Crimes are not solved as much as controlled, through informal alliances of small agencies within and outside the state, or when there is publicity of the crimes that embarrasses higher ups in government. It is crime and crime fighting within a massive, illicit social network, fueled on greed, speed and reputation

Much of the structure is similar to a legitimate social network–fast changing and adaptive, and hard for outsiders to locate or control…

That means that governments become more like gangs. On both sides of the struggle, informal pressure has as much force as codified law. With both good guys and bad, it is hard to tell an army from a gang, or either from a business.

ODIN!!!!

You know what I'll bet somebody's inventing right now? A Mydoom virus for smartphones that will reprogram your phone to make endless robocalls. (Why aren't there more mobile viruses anyway? Has there ever been a more tempting avenue for hepatitis than the iPod Bump app?)

As for the dark ages Hardy envisions, well, if Decade Zero taught us anything, it's that things can always get worse. But I'd look at the history that has actually happened as a guide to the history that's going to happen, and note that most of the world's governments are less gang-like and thuggish today than they were 50 years ago. Maybe the existence of digital communication changes everything, but in fact many governments are tamer now than they were even 20 years ago, when people were already talking about "cyberspace." And I would say speed of information is the primary reason government as a concept has been losing credibility around the world.

The example Hardy cites is of a government that is actually worse (and more popular) now than it was 20 years ago in the 1990s: Russia, where in 2008 hackers beat up Georgian communications while the Russian army was demolishing the Georgian army. Maybe this seems new because the Russian hackers were loosely organized, but it's a pretty old phenomenon: warring countries using every means to destroy each other. Meanwhile there are fewer warring countries and less destruction than at any point in history. That's a good trend, one that makes it worth enduring some crimes that are hard to "locate and control." (That includes non-crimes that are nevertheless against the law, by the way. This excerpt from FSE details the highly nonapocalyptic takedown of some online gaming operators.)

Meanwhile, change your passwords often and make sure to destroy all paper mail with identifying information about you.

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  1. Paranoia sells.

  2. Paranoia sells.

    Who told you about that?!?

  3. I did.

  4. I agree that most of these luddite bed wetters are so worried is because of the speed of change.

    If you love the Government, it must scare the shit out of you that by the time you have come up with a law to deal with a problem, the world has moved on.

    For example, by the time the committee came up with a plan to make sure that Lotus’ dominance in spreadsheets wasn’t a monopoly, the rest of the world had already moved on to Excel and then Open Office.

    Why won’t those dang hackers have the common courtesy to stand still for a while?

    1. STEVE SMITH HATE TAXES. TAXES-ON-ME, OR TAXES-ON-YOU, NO DIFFERENCE.

      1. I thought he really only objected to taxes on rape and shaving cream.

        1. STEVE SMITH FIND NUTRADOPE’S POOR HUMOR VERY TAXING

        2. RAPE TAX CREATE POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP THAT IS VERY EXPENSIVE FOR STEVE.

          1. STEVE NEED MONEY FOR PUPPY CHOW AND WALRUS PORN.

  5. governments are less gang-like and thuggish today than they were 50 years ago

    Fifty years ago was 1960. I can’t get that into my head, either. The 20th century thug-out was over by then, mostly. Except in the Middle East. And Africa. Theirs hadn’t really started yet. Most of it hadn’t. Or do you mean Asian governments? That’s when China flipped out. Again.

    Anyway, the governments we actually care about were less gang-like and thuggish fifty years before they went completely insane in the 1900s, too. They’re resting their eyes. Again.

    1. governments are less gang-like and thuggish today than they were 50 years ago

      Really?

      I would expect your standard-issue kleptocracy that rules over many states is precisely as thuggish as ever.

      The US and Canada are arguably more thuggish, with Canada sending their PC police to harass dissenters, and the US groaning under a drug war and asset forfeiture regime that simply did not exist in 1960.

      The Chinese, well, their current crony-capitalist kleptocracy is probably marginally less thuggish than their Olde Schoole Red Army communism. So there’s that.

      1. The United States 50 years ago had broad involuntary commitment powers, legally enforced segregation in some places, and military conscription. Non-officially there was broad deference given to official sources and authority figures that is just unimaginable today.

        China can prosecute lipsyncers all it wants and it’s still better than it was back then.

        Also I forgot how to count to 20 in the post: In 1990 Russia was still the USSR, so obviously it’s a little less gang-like too.

        Nearly every country in Latin America has a more accountable government now than it had in the 20th century.

        I did’t say governments are good. Just that they can’t get away with as much as they used to.

        And of course to say governments are becoming gang-like is like saying bears are becoming hairy.

  6. That means that governments become more like gangs.

    He’s just figuring this out now?!?

  7. Anyway, the governments we actually care about were less gang-like and thuggish fifty years before they went completely insane in the 1900s, too. They’re resting their eyes. Again.

    Ah yes, some fifty years before WWI: the 1840-1860s. Nope, no revolutions cascading in Europe, no War of Northern Aggression or Mexican-American War or Indian Frontier War, no Opium Wars, nope.

  8. Has there ever been a more tempting avenue for hepatitis than the iPod Bump app?

    This is why I always keep my iPhone wrapped in silicone.

    That means that governments become more like gangs. On both sides of the struggle, informal pressure has as much force as codified law. With both good guys and bad, it is hard to tell an army from a gang, or either from a business.

    When was it ever any different?

  9. As far as the internet goes, while crime is up because there’s actually money on the internet, the amount of skeez you deal with on a daily basis is way way down. Remember when spam was a huge problem? Spyware, adware? The internet is a lot more civilized and much less full of traps and ambushes than a decade ago. What traps exist are much better than they used to be, but you no longer just expect to pick up viruses and malware like a ship picks up barnacles.

  10. Why aren’t there more mobile viruses anyway? Has there ever been a more tempting avenue for hepatitis than the iPod Bump app?

    Too many different operating systems. The closed ecosystem and approval process required by Apple for iPhone apps means that viruses will probably never make it to the app store.

    1. Ah, so style over substance totalitarianism will keep us safe.

      P.S. I love you Tim.

    2. But that doesn’t apply once Apple has a product with more than 10% market penetration, does it? I mean the reason Mac viruses were always rare was that hardly anybody used Macs…

      1. It’s because Steve Jobs sold his soul to the devil so that no hackers would make Apple viruses.

  11. There are “dialer” viruses for phones emerging now apparently.

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