Full disclosure: The author was a Sony Pictures Entertainment employee from 2001-2012)
The game playing days on the Internet are over. Those that thought the global communications network would remain a fun toy for idle social media wanderers are about to be separated from those who know that it is a vital part of the business operational infrastructure. The first automobile drivers probably self-selected which lane to use and routinely ran over whatever they could, their days were numbered by the reality that the roads were going to one day be used by all. As that process went, so goes the stabilization of The Internet. And with it will come the regulations and protections that oversee all other information. But the challenge for governments, business and the average user will be, now and forever, the ability to stay technically ahead of the criminals who seek to disrupt the infrastructure and the lives of those that use it. How will business get ahead of the hackers, and what will the government do to help?
The Rise of The Network
Unfortunately, the answers to those questions are likely to mean, more, not less, intrusion into privacy and personal data. When a multi-million dollar business is caught without its firewall down, the impact as we have read in numerous media reports, is devastating. The average reader may see the attack as just another infiltration by bad guys, but the real issue is what it will mean in the long run. One possibility is that, in the interest of protecting all that you have, the government will align with business to build a national security structure for online activity. So would begin the rise of The Network, as it eventually plays out in The Motion Clue. Think of it as a Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) for civilian servers. If America could have once thought about blasting incoming missiles out of the sky, so it could develop a constant watch over every server to blast malicious code, when, and if, it can find it.
At the very least, a united defense would slow down, not halt, attacks since a parallel team would be working 24/7 on blanket Network security protection for everyone. In The Motion Clue, the world is aligned in Cyber defense, and UN Special Command is responsible for fighting an ongoing war against cyber attackers. But as Special Command well knows, the rogue technologists are more sophisticated and work faster and more efficiently than governments. And as the global agents also have to concede, aligning their potential enemies to their cause in the name of global peace, means that sometimes, rogue techs need to be co-opted to work directly with governments, for a price. But the fact that the defense exists is a deterrent. Special Command has a UN Convention and legislative authority from almost every country to hunt down and prosecute anyone who disrupts activity on The Network. Almost every country also has a parallel unit working domestically on Cyber War and sending agents to the global team. It becomes a complete, diligent, ready and capable force that knows that it is fighting a war and takes continuous steps to win.
The government’s argument for control ultimately becomes a legitimate one for the average citizen. After all, the government would say, ‘wouldn’t you rather have your civil service responsible for managing your personal data. Even if we eventually use it to prosecute you for (insert offense here), at least there will be constitutionally-protected accountability.’ So would go the argument, and so would go the split between those who agree and those who seek another path.
Many separate networks
In every war there are those who have the resources to build their own defenses. Right now, wealthy individuals and public figures who enjoy using their e-mail can almost be heard frantically deleting every sexist, racist, non-flattering, insulting, sensitive and tainted comment that they can remember typing. And if they have one engineer in the family, that person should brace themselves for an onslaught of questions about how one can remove their personal information from the public Internet, and function without falling into the hands of hackers. In The Motion Clue, this work is called building “off-ramps.” Creating separate, secure server space customized for specific users. The technology that allows these people to have their Internet and eat it too, is a program that makes the on-ramps to the public Internet and the off-ramps back to their servers invisible to any typical searcher (or hacker). Only the user knows that she is coming from a ramp onto the Information Superhighway, and any tracker that tries to find her has to work on another level of technological sophistication that few will master. Rogue techs earn their income from constantly building (coding) more technically advanced ramps. Again in an analogy to the nuclear arms race, the rogue techs effectively bankrupt government resources by making it more and more difficult to utilize time and people to try and break the ramps down. They build millions of fake points to camouflage the real ones, and they routinely rewrite the code to throw the government trackers off their trail. In other words, it’s a tech arms race without the physical destruction.
Sadly, the Sony Pictures hack is almost certainly the type of incident that sets off the changes that lead to the world that exists in The Motion Clue. The rise of The Network as a united stand against cyber attack, and the building of separate networks by those who can afford to protect themselves could be outputs of a crime like the Sony Pictures hack. Both scenarios are at the base of operations in The Motion Clue but of course the novel would have no drama if those options were fool-proof. Instead, it is not the technology that we know that will challenge us, but that which we fail to predict. The failure to anticipate that someone/everyone can see what you are doing online unleashed an embarrassing wave of information. While all other businesses benefit right now by making significant security changes to their online operations, there will be those observers to the future who begin also preparing for the day when the changes become obsolete, infiltrated and over-turned by the next wave of hackers.