Social Motivations in a Cyber World

“The major threat to security, our way of life, to prosperity  is not kinetic warfare or terrorism, but is in fact espionage and crime and cheating,” according to Ben Hammersley, technologist and Wired editor at large. Hammersley spoke on “Adding Fuel to the Wi-fire: What is the Nexus between Social Media, Emerging Technologies and digital Radicalization” at The Brookings Institute on Tuesday, July 17th .

Hammersley explained that he is mainly a “Futurist … get[ting] paid to live six months in the future and tell stories about it.” He often referred to Moore’s Law, which is the concept that every 12-18 months the computing capabilities of a certain product that costs “x” amount of dollars, will have twice as much computing power for the same cost, or that the cost of a unit with the same commuting power will cost half as much as it did previously. As current British ambassador to East London Tech City, essentially the British Silicon Valley, he knows what he’s talking about.

In terms of cyber security policy, officials are writing legislation for outdated technology. A simple example of this would be the 1996 Telecommunications Act which was the first change in 62 years. This legislation was relevant when initially implemented but now is severely outdated since it only pertains to wired services and does not address wireless networks.  While this is an old example the legislation that is being written now will ultimately result in the same fate since by the time it is enacted technology will have advanced significantly according to Moore’s Law.

Governments should not treat cyber attacks as a military threat, but rather as an epidemiological or health issue. According to Hammersley, the cyber threat is more social and criminal than military related. A person with a credit card and an internet connection can easily procure supplies that result in a cyber attack. It is no longer cost effective to monitor every single person who makes these purchases or possesses the technical knowhow to pull off an attack. To fight this issue, governments need to educate instead of build fences. Policy makers must educate society to make it socially unacceptable for people to do this, which would remove their motivation.

Hammersley said, “Capability is so universal that we have to target the motive.”

If a person’s underlying social motivation is removed then they won’t have a reason to plan or execute an attack. Hammersley said “if a person’s mother would be disappointed with them for doing it then they probably won’t do it.”

In an age where most information is only a few clicks away, people now have a greater potential to wreak havoc across a broader area. People don’t learn facts anymore – they simply learn pathways to find information.

Hammersley explained that in today’s cyber Cold War, a radical would most likely look like an “annoyed middle class white guy, the computer engineer in the suburbs who can’t pay his mortgage anymore and freaks out.” The loss of a social contract can do immense damage, resulting in a person going postal on a cyber-scale. Hammersley reasoned that people are not born evil and that they only turn to violence as a last resort. Alternative options could solve this problem.

To Hammersley internet freedom is a network neutral, carrier neutral system. The best system would emulate the post office, which does not filter content or differentiate between different types of traffic — much like how the post office doesn’t read your mail.

If society wants the benefits of the internet, they have to accept the potential bad, as the good often outweighs the bad. Hammersley articulated the implications of emerging technologies and the facility of finding groups of like-minded people on the internet — no matter what the interest. He said that this has led to a “reviewers society.”

Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to review a book, it was necessary to gain experience by working your way through the ranks until you became the authority. Now everyone is capable and encouraged to review something, and that review be read and considered regardless of background or expertise. This is causing problems, especially in the political arena. People write and post opinions in support of candidates and issues during elections. After a candidate is elected, those previously valued opinions no longer matter and are simply ignored.

Hammersley believes the internet has hyper-enfranchised society and the political sphere has disenfranchised it. This discontent could potentially lead to revolution.

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