Rolling apocalypse, maturing cyber threat

By Lucien Crowder | October 18, 2017

Lately the world has been ending a lot.

An earthquake in Mexico. A rain bomb in Houston. Blood in Barcelona and wildfires in wine country. A madman in Sin City and madness in Mogadishu. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un lobbing insults and vowing to lob missiles. Spit-shined fascists in European capitals grabbing at the levers of power.

Somehow it seems fitting that cyber mischief is in the news now as never before—why shouldn’t an emerging threat seem to mature just when the old threats are all at their scariest? Consider this inventory:

  • As reported by a trio of New York Times writers, North Korea’s once-risible cyber capacities are nothing to be snickered at now—to the contrary, Pyongyang’s hackers are malicious, persistent, and increasingly effective. They stole $81 million from the Federal Reserve. They stole US–South Korean war plans. And as discussed by Page Stoutland in the Bulletin, nuclear weapons systems are vulnerable to cyberattack.
  • In “What Facebook Did to American Democracy,” The Atlantic’s Alexis C. Madrigal makes a compelling case that the social media giant has wounded the US political system in ways that will be hard to heal. Meanwhile, some of the very people who invented the “like” button and the smart-phone swipe are warning that their creations can… befoul human consciousness, let’s say.
  • We can no longer trust firms, such as Kaspersky Lab, that are supposed to be protect us against cyber threats. Perhaps we should never trust a data company such as Cambridge Analytica, even when it behaves itself, which apparently it hasn’t been doing.
  • China’s autocrats, meanwhile, cackle over the cyber misfortunes of the democratic world, secure in the knowledge that their repressive control of the Internet helps preserve their repressive control of the Chinese population. What’s perverse is that, for one quick second, you can start to think that they’re doing things right.

I haven’t even explicitly mentioned the Russia/Trump story. Perhaps Robert Mueller is developing a clear understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 election. If so, he is—outside the Volga watershed—the only individual so enlightened. I haven’t mentioned Experian, either. There’s a lot I haven’t mentioned. The cyber threat, previously frightening on a theoretical level but merely annoying on a practical level, has suddenly metastasized into a vivid, wicked, here-and-now problem.

Maybe we deserve it. Years ago we bemoaned the lobotomizing power of the boob tube, but television can’t compete with smart phones. Last week I saw a woman trip while walking and texting. As soon as she could right herself, she went back to walking and texting.

We’ve traded friends for “friends.” We’ve traded love for “likes.”

Probably someone has written that line before me but I’m not scouring the Internet to find out who.

Did I mention that it’s National Cyber Security Month?

Publication Name: The New York Times
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