Is Michigan Arming Cyber Terrorists?

The short answer: maybe.

I just returned from the thought-provoking two-day Merit Member Conference. Topics ranged from VDI to text-files.com, software defined networking, and cyber defense. The presentation on cyber defense was interesting for several reasons, most notably (to me) for the announcement by Don Welch of a Cyber Defense Range in Michigan. To steal Don’s illustration, think of a cyber defense range in terms of a rifle range. It will be a “safe” battleground for interested parties to attack and defend without the legal ramifications associated with the real world. Cyber defense classes will also be available/required. The idea? Teach America’s cyber “militia” (Don’s term) to defend against foreign or domestic cyber attacks.

Personally, I am very excited about this and cannot wait until it is complete and pricing information starts coming around. Others may be turned off or tepid at best. After the presentation, one conference attendee raised the important question: Will this range train terrorists? The response was that the range would train pretty much anyone who wanted to pay and had an appropriate sponsor. I have no idea which side of the fence the questioner fell on, but the appropriate reaction seemed obvious to me. This is no different than training someone to fly a plane. And yes, there should be stigma attached to that statement.

Over the past decade, reporters have focused on the fact that the September 11th hijackers trained in US flight schools. No one thinks we should stop training pilots. Why should hacking be any different? Merit’s argument for remaining as open as possible with this venture is that doing so allows far greater input from people like students or non-citizens. If the goal is to teach and learn, the greater the base the better. This means it might be possible for a prospect terrorist to go through the training. What impact does that really have in the scheme of things? I suppose cyber terrorists could learn a little easier what they would learn on their own anyway. The advantage falls to the defenders.

Here is the bigger problem. Cyber terrorism is real. It won’t go away just because we avoid building these kinds of facilities. What we need is to train the militia so they can defend. Yes, as we try to train the militia, we will unavoidably train the other side. Is it not worth a handful of malicious hackers to produce hundreds, if not thousands of cyber defense specialists? This is a numbers game. If substantially greater defense results, it is a win.

I’d Rather Be Riding

The helmet taunts me from a distance. My eyes drift between the blue dome on the coffee table and the baseball cap in my hand. “I would probably get hit,” I think, and reluctantly place the cap on my head. It seemed strangely comfortable sitting down in the driver’s seat and starting the obnoxious engine. Even a little engine at 3:00AM roars through the open night.

It’s time for a maintenance window in the server room. Hardly anyone is on the road, but it only takes one sleep deprived driver like myself to change a cyclists life.

It was only a couple days ago that I started biking into work: nearly eight miles of bad shoulders, no shoulders, steep climbs, and sharp descents. This ride was nothing like the flat paved trail I had grown accustomed to. As I drove in, I watched every inch of my biking route. I came around the big curve and crossed the overpass. It all looks so different from here. Strange what a few times on the bike can do. As my little engine roared along, I wondered if I was alert enough to avoid a cyclist.

The previous day’s ride certainly provided more interesting events than others. A large stone kicked up by a semi dodged me by about two yards, I got buzzed for the first time, and a hubcap flew off a car into my path about ten seconds ahead. Seeing other hubcaps abandoned on the side of the road does nothing to reassure. Still, the ride is pleasant and most of the drivers courteous. A welcome thought as I remember my own doubts setting out that first morning.

Athletic? No, I wouldn’t call myself that. From a wider perspective, my challenge to ride eight miles is probably laughable. And I don’t think three days of commuting in the saddle earns me the title or reputation of a cyclist. Maybe it’s a passing interest. Maybe I will wear out. Maybe I will be too scared to ride in bad weather. But now, as I look out over the dash, I can’t help thinking, “I’d rather be riding.”

Quantity is Quality… Or at Least it Can Be

Last week on the social media panel, the question of quantity versus quality came up. The question asked which was better, quantity or quality. This is my attempt to respond.

Where I failed in the discussion was to define what exactly quality is. So, what is this quality that quantity seems to threaten? One example might be a certain book published just before the turn of the twentieth century. This book required pain-staking research over the course of a decade. A vast amount of statistics were compiled and top authorities in the field were recruited for input. The author even disclosed his inability to be bias on the issue because of his birthplace. All-in-all, something we would deem quality.

The name of this publication was “Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro” by Frederick L. Hoffman. Here is an excerpt from this well-funded and highly-published work: “It is not in the conditions of life, but in the race traits and tendencies that we find the causes of excessive mortality. So long as these tendencies are persisted in, so long as immorality and vice are a habit of life of the vast majority of the colored population, the effect will be to increase the mortality by hereditary transmission of weak constitutions, and to lower still further the rate of natural increase, until the births fall below the deaths, and gradual extinction results” (p. 95). So, while the method of writing and publication of this work could be regarded as quality (aside from his use of passive voice, right?), its message is that immorality is hereditary among African Americans and will lead to the extinction of this group.

I think we may need to redefine quality.

Quality may have more to do with effort and participation than a well-polished outcome. Not everyone is Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s use the example of a boy named Calvin. Say Calvin sits in the back of a classroom, does not listen, and does not speak. He shows up almost on time and tries to sneak out before the bell rings. Is this quality participation? Without going into much detail, we will assume not. Now, let’s say Calvin starts paying attention one day. Another day, he starts processing what he hears. Another day, he raises his hand and shares a few words. Maybe the day after that, he speaks the equivalent of a whole paragraph. In comparison to his initial state, this would be major progress in Calvin’s quality of participation.

Likewise, I believe part of the quality aspect of social media is getting people to participate. Someone on the panel raised the idea that social media may serve as a platform for shy folks (like myself) to share ideas. I would say that is right on. As an introvert, one of my dark secrets is that I love having a microphone. This is because I don’t have to try and talk over anybody; I just do. Social media allows that, if I get your attention. Participation where there was none before is one point for quality.

The second point for quality, in my humble opinion, is effort. Teachers (which includes all people who share something, not just professionals) should put their best efforts into what they teach. This includes research. Students (again, not just those in the classroom) should put forth their best efforts in learning. This also includes research, as well as application. When people post through Facebook and other media, they should seek to post the best they can. Failure to do so helps push the society at-large in a downward direction.

Now, maybe I am stuck up, but I have a lot of problems approaching Twitter in the preferred method. A limit of 140 characters makes writing without abbreviations and LOL’s, IDK’s, and IMHO’s very difficult. But I still have a hard time getting myself to give up a properly written (although at times misspelled) word. Yet, those who do concede and instead use this new form of short-hand are not necessarily reducing the quality of communication. Any drop in quality is more likely a result of poorly thought-out or proof-read posts or an inability to control one’s self in front of a camera lens.

As we can see from Hoffman, quality is not just the package something arrives in. Rather, everyone participating and participating with their best effort is how we can accommodate an increase in quality with a simultaneous increase in quantity. If we use social media, let us use it to think critically and share that which we believe will build up each other and our world. Let’s get Calvin engaged, spare him the unnecessarily harsh criticisms (i.e.: choose your battles), and help him learn to more fully develop and share his thoughts. Quantity is not the enemy of quality; fear of participation is.

Adam Clicked

This is really just a brief follow-up to yesterday’s post. I got to thinking about the Sistine Chapel after writing about our efforts when worshiping God. I have heard at least a few people point out how God is portrayed on the ceiling as reaching and extending all of His body as an intense attempt to reach Adam. Meanwhile, Adam sits rather relaxed and barely lifts a finger in response.

Thus, I give you “Adam Clicked.”

Adam Clicked

No NPR for Lent

Lent began last Wednesday, so I am a little behind on giving something up. I am fortunate to be a protestant since I get to choose whether or not I participate in Lent and I even get to choose what to give up. At least that is how it was as a kid. I generally tried giving up school, but that never got far.

One thing I have grown quite attached to is National Public Radio (NPR). I listen to it just about anytime I am in the car and I think the topics are fascinating. Today, as I was getting into the car to drive home from work, I just had the feeling I should leave the radio off and be silent. Shortly after getting home, I needed to head to class (about a forty-minute drive). I felt the same inkling of just driving in silence, so I did. The same silence was repeated for my drive home.

I am starting to think that I need to give up my precious radio time to seek silence and listen for direction. It seems to fit with Lent, so I think I will try giving up NPR, or more generally all radio, while I am alone in the car. After just half a day (that’s impressive) of silence, I am already feeling something. I keep hearing the words to a song I wrote and thought I should share those lyrics:

[Verse 1]

I’ve not been around the world and I’m not heading out today.

I’m gonna’ watch it drown, just the same as yesterday.

I don’t get around.

I don’t get around.

[Verse 2]

Pushing Tylenol to cover up the pain.

Burning ethanol while Abel hunts for Cain.

Won’t you knock it off,

And not go on and, on and on and on?

[Bridge]

And I don’t know how to change myself,

‘Cause the real me is a real hard sell.

So, this is not a post to say NPR is bad. But, I really want to know what I can learn in the silence.

Can IT Be Redeemed?

Last week, I posed the question, “Is technology ill-gotten gain?” While I did not come out strong in my post one way or the other, I think I finally settled on an answer I can accept. Yes. Just as so much of our technology came from Nazi experiments and our long history of fine cotton garments came from the tireless and unappreciated work of slaves, information technology has come to us at the expense of others. Ill-gotten gain.

The next question is “Can IT be redeemed?” My friend Daniel Shackelford, who attends an Eastern Orthodox church, talked to me at least once about how Christ’s participation in Creation (ie: He drank, ate, slept, wore clothes, went to the bathroom, worked, paid taxes, etc.) was a part of redemption. The redemption of Creation. So, now we have this creation by man that has gone awry. Can it be redeemed through righteous participation?

Now, before it sounds like I am going all “churchy,” I mean righteous in the broader sense: right-ness, or simply doing the right thing. By using technology in the right way, purchasing it from ethical manufacturers, and holding the irresponsible accountable, can we all redeem technology together? Take its past and present, turn it on its head, and create something that does not require, as my friend David Goodrich said it so elegantly, compromise? I think so. But, until our technology and our use of it is righteous, we are compromising. And, unfortunately, the excuse of ignorance does not give an ill-treated stranger his or her dignity back.

So, now I pose the question to anyone who will listen. How do we redeem technology?

(P.S.: Peace in Libya, please… please.)

Is Technology Ill-Gotten Gain?

“Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money; it robs them of life.” Proverbs 1:19 (NLT)

There are many things sought through technology: money, knowledge, fame, fortune, community, and more. We can argue again and again over whether or not technology is inherently bad. Recently, people in the Middle East have embraced technologies like Facebook and Twitter as pathways to freedom. But only a short time ago, social media was on trial for its role in cyber bullying. It returns us to the question of whether or not the medium is the message (Marshall McLuhan). However, before we even dig into that question, there is another very basic question to answer: “Is technology ill-gotten gain?” Meaning, have we gained technology at the undue expense of someone or something else?

Let’s define our terms so we are on the same page. By gain, I mean getting something we did not have before. By ill-gotten, I am focusing primarily on the idea of hurting others to get something. Technology, for the sake of this discussion, refers to Information Technology, such as computers, cell phones, and the Internet.

So, what are the gains of technology? Trans-continental communication (wow!), better tracking of weather patterns, a wealth of knowledge that’s only a few seconds away, jobs, and more. As we get into the specifics of what technology offers, the list of gains can grow as fast as the Internet itself. But, what hurts have these gains caused?

There are two categories of hurt that come to mind for me: production and society. The production of certain electronic components is very hurtful. Production requires resources. One of these resources is coltan. The profits from its mining help fund war in the Congo (read more at http://www.cellular-news.com/coltan/). Shouldn’t this be enough for me to curb my consumption of technology? Will the day come when cell phones are labeled as “blood” cell phones, as Brian McLaren once suggested to me?

On the societal side of hurt, we have cyber bullying, the loss of attention spans, a growing reliance on working electricity, loss and forfeiture of privacy, intensifying addictions to gambling, shopping, and pornography, and the marginalization of those who do not understand technology. This list could also go on and on. Do these hurts qualify technology for ill-gotten gain?

We might say technology is not the problem. Rather, it is the production and use. So, how will we change it? We cannot erase the history of technology, but can we make its production and use clean and guiltless? I say we try.

The question I need to answer for myself in the meantime is “Should I stop using technology that is not verified as guiltless?” Currently, this would equate to ALL technology. Yet, here I am… blogging.