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The Fallen World of Cyberspace
Moderator(s): Randall D. Isaac
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8/17/2012 at 10:40:30 PM GMT
Posts: 5
The Fallen World of Cyberspace

Now that Information Technology (IT) has grown into the status of an Age, the Digital Age, I look back and see not only its benefits, but also the vast array of spam, frauds, hackers, malware, trojans, viruses, worms, social engineering, and cyber warfare that has emerged, following every new technology advance right on its heels.

This is a new reflection of the fallen world. All emerging within my adult lifetime.

I remember when I got my first IBM PC computer, back in about 1987, the "dark ages". I joined a large local PC users group (remember them?) One of the meetings discussed computer viruses, and many of us doubted whether such a thing could even exist. Today, 25 years later, I heard General Keith Alexander of NSA proposing a full military command in charge of "cybersecurity". He is earnestly seeking the services of "black hat" hackers in developing these skills -- and their defenses -- for training across the workforce.

I have personally never been interested in hacking, but apparently some people are. Networked computer systems, because of their ability to copy and share code, are inherently vulnerable to self-corruption and self-destruction. It only takes one evil person to create a virus that will then spread exponentially through the network. Hence it takes constant, vigilant human intervention by "white hats" to maintain stable operation on a network.

But of course sometimes a "white hat" has a "black hat" underneath. So evil comes back to its origin -- the human level. We are back into the fallen world of ordinary human life. We cannot easily distinguish good from evil. If we could unambiguously, consistently, distinguish friend from foe then evil would soon be banished from the planet. But in all of human history, in all kinds of the strictest, most well-intentioned organizations, it never has been eliminated.

Hence we are obliged to spend billions on security, surveillance, intelligence, defense, vigilance, patches, updates, upgrades, etc. A network is like a living organism; it needs an immune system. Such a system is necessarily dynamic, basing its defenses on the nature of the attack. As any living system, which must devote a certain amount of metabolic overhead to self-defense, or else it would die in short order.

One wonders, with all the viruses about, why life -- or the network -- lives at all. The answer goes back to a definition of evil attributed to St. Augustine: evil is not an entity in itself; it is the absence of the good, the absence of normal. It cannot exist by itself; it only exists as a parasite on the good. Viruses derive their energy and reproductive power only from the good engine of normal cell replication.

So the good must have existed before evil. This too is true of cyberspace. The Internet standards, like TCP/IP, HTTP etc. were carefully designed protocols created specifically to carry out communication functions. That was their purpose. They have mechanisms to tolerate faults, dropouts, congestion, noise, etc. but not deliberate, malicious abuse of the protocols themselves. That abuse starts from the top layer of the system, from evil humans. There is nothing evil or wrong in the protocols themselves (other than design flaws which are continually being repaired), but the evil comes from outside. It is parasitic on the system and exploits it. Malware actions are often called "exploits". Sometimes systems can be brought to a standstill by denial-of-service attacks, or other systemic failures. The ultimate remedy for malware: wipe the disk, do a clean install and start over.

In the organism, in some cases viral infections can overcome the healthy organism and destroy it. But in the long term, for over a billion years, we are comforted by the fact that life has gone on; good ultimately triumphs over evil.

It has done so, partly, because of apoptosis -- individuals sacrificing their lives for the survival of the whole. Survival emerges from death and failure. Evolution destroys evil by dying to contain it. Atonement leads to salvation. Wipe the disk, do a clean install and start over. Be born again.

Last edited Friday, August 17, 2012