February 27, 2007

If it had been The Great Firewall of China, Would the Manchus Still Have Invaded?

It's a war out there.

The Forces of Good have been battling the Forces of Evil ever since someone made up the first law. Since not everyone agrees that following the rules is in their best interest, enforcers (traditionally ranging from hired thugs to your friendly neighborhood policeman) have been in place. The point of this mini history lesson? To highlight the fact that it's never going to end. Good is never going to triumph over Evil, because part of being Good is not hitting first. Good has to wait for Evil to do something before enforcing the law.

Cyberspace is no different. Hackers and spammers and phishers and all others out there making victims of Joe Q. always get the first blow in the war. The only preemptive move Good can make is to build a wall; but even the Great Wall of China failed, so we shouldn't put all of our trust in our defenses. Once a cybercriminal strikes, all the security companies can do is mop up the pieces and try to make sure that that particular avenue is closed.

It's a neverending, frustrating battle that is going to by definition have innocent victims. (No victim, no crime, right?) So when one is shopping for cybersecurity products, one should keep in mind that they are all based on past attacks and won't necessarily be precognitive enough to protect precious data from the Next Evil Thing.

That's not to say that our cyberspace enforcers aren't doing their best - they are certainly making an all-out effort to try to predict and prevent the next attack. Law enforcement in the real world is working with security specialists in the cyber world, but I believe that more needs to be done. Cyber crime and real world crime are becoming increasingly enmeshed, as is highlighted by the real world crime of a stolen laptop enabling the cyber crime of stolen data and identity theft. The recent theft of a cell phone triggered the real world embarrassment of certain celebrity figures, but what if a stolen PDA results in a criminal being able to ambush someone?

Guarding cell phones, laptops, PDAs or other personal electronics should be on the same level of priority as guarding one's house keys. The sooner the public at large realizes the dangers of not taking their electronic privacy seriously, the better. And perhaps, if enough awareness is raised, my teenager will quit losing his cell phone.

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