I will confess that I am not a computer expert. I use mine as a glorified typewriter. But I am smart enough to recognize the fact that in the “right” hands, it is a high-grade weapon, powerful enough to make TNT obsolete….writes Bikram Vohra
I read a book the other day in which the author says that one day we will long for the scruffy terrorist with the used AK-47 as opposed to the intellectual terrorist who is now in our midst. He is erudite, educated, urbane, holds a responsible post in a working hierarchy and his mindset is more devious and dangerous than a thousand foot soldiers.
The gun-toting caricature of the current militant, regardless of which part of the world he is in, will be vanilla compared to what a handful of such people can do by way of tearing apart the social fabric. If the IRA and their armed Sinn Fein, the German Baader-Meinhof gang, India’s Maoists, the PLO and others had such access to information and the convenience of driving their cavalcades down the information highway, the world would have been very different… if anything had survived.
It got me thinking that either the author had a fertile imagination or that society was in peril now and we are hurtling, sans geographical boundaries, into a new world where the terrorist per se is being aided and abetted by you and I thanks to our servile surrender to social media. Put it into perspective.
If Stephen Hawkins can speak of the possibility of artificial intelligence going berserk and taking over our world because we created it but could not control it (and this happening in our time), why cannot the extremist use the same tools to wreak havoc?
Take this urbane terrorist. He or she shares exactly the same priorities as the college student on the couch, texting madly to a friend. The depressed housewife making 4,752 friends across the world and feeling wanted or more meaningfully, needed. The overnight success reflects his lack of self-esteem through photos of himself on the Costa del Sol or in a first class airline seat. Boasting of his achievements indicates that the single largest spur to becoming a slave to QWERTY in its many debasing forms is unbridled narcissism.
In 2012, psychologists in the US produced a paper that said: Narcissism is excessive self-love, inflated self-importance and unjustified feelings of entitlement. Along with electrons, it is the primary active ingredient in the internet.
It is you. The executive sharing insider information in cryptic code confident that it cannot be broken. Hackers wearing a mantle of romance as they inveigle themselves into your lives as insidiously as HIV. In fact, there could be five legs on the evil toadstool.
*The computer-savvy extremist: Texting madly, he would send his messages to create awareness, build tension, generate a daisy chain, provide knowledge to his cohorts, a knowledge that we would so unstintingly volunteer and keep updating.
*The depressed housewife: Who are those lonely people, where do they come from, where do they belong? People living lives of lonely despair are perfect recruits for the “good” fight. Eleanor Rigby has a million facsimiles and they are cannon fodder so easily led astray by blandishment and flattery, their excruciating need to be wanted. They will flock to the recruiter and his cause. Somebody “understands” them.
*The overnight success: Spewing data about himself and his wealth, he will give any half-witted terror cell leader information. The amount of information we so freely dispense in these public forums underscores an ignorance that, for the evil-doer, is pure bliss.
*The executive playing the odds: He is an ideal choice for tracking and since he is already cheating and breaking the laws, what better person to befriend? So dramatically are we all brain-washed into seeing a terrorist in a Brooks Brothers suit using his Ipad to play Candy Crush, that we cannot possibly see him plotting mayhem. You better believe it, we are getting there. Besides, the inherent narcissism and the need to show off offers the clever extremist great insight into the weaknesses of his target. Once he has hacked him, he has got him and his wealth.
*Hackers: They target the ones they need for specific reasons and the lonely people, the misled and the easily swayed are all marked for mental slaughter… which could then lead to the worst case scenarios of violence executed by self-imposed martyrdom. If law enforcement agencies of the world can hire hackers, why can’t threat and coercion be used to enlist such geniuses by the cells? It is a no-brainer.
Last week, over a billion android mobile phones were made vulnerable to malware that would access personal data, including photographs, messages and private correspondence. I know who you are and what you wrote. So easy is it to obtain data that the image of a sacked employee carrying away his personal effects in a brown cardboard box and not being allowed to check his computer is ludicrous. He probably has a hundred copies already. Up in the cloud, seeded with information. So there is no difference between the 21st century spawning of the intellectual terrorist and the student on the couch.
He can spread the message in real time. He can get funding directly or by proxy. He can recruit with consummate ease. He can sit at home over breakfast and generate a campaign over the long haul, provide a chat room for the truly deranged and by bouncing his signals and using cut-outs, he can be reasonably confident that he will not be traced.
There is no doubt that Twitter, Facebook and their other cousins were started with benign intent. To communicate with one another in a networking environment that broke the barriers of caste, color and creed. That turned malignant a long time ago and with every new addition to the information surge, the most benefited are the ones with violence on their minds. Armed with cyber-weaponry (and this is no joke), this growing army will not look at suicide vests and a dozen victims, but will seek the “pleasures” of mega-deaths.
The defence is riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese. The law enforcement agencies of the world are defeated by the population that is now its biggest adversary. Ergo, it is sworn to protect those that let them down. This bitter irony is not yet visible to the majority and it is all too surreal for us to really take it seriously. This is sci-fi with popcorn and cola.
No, it is not. Chris Nerney wrote in Network World: “Social media platforms are increasingly being used by enterprises to engage with customers, build their brands and communicate information to the rest of the world.” Spot on. Terrorism is a commodity. It has to be advertised and sold. Indeed, it is a brand and brand-building is what is done through these platforms.
The anonymity of not just the sender but even the camouflaged content makes it ideal as the spearhead of knowledge. You can lie with elan and nobody will be any wiser. Often, exactly the opposite can occur. There is no need to soften the message or edit the offensive videos. You can put it all up and the devil take the hindmost. There will always be takers and for the others to be intimidated, fear is the key.
Since we, the people, are integral to the problem, is there a solution? Let’s be very clear. These are precarious times. There is no silver bullet. There have been several scenarios including upgrades in surveillance, sharing of international databases and eye in the sky activity coupled with tailing suspects on the information highway. But it is a very large terrain for an unequal battle. One of the more bizarre suggestions has been to grade every single human being for his threat-level based on data in the personal file. While such control would need an army of controllers, the thought of Big Brother grading you is scary.
Unless there is some global awakening, we will feast at the banquet of consequences. At present, there is very little correlation or evidence that one can input to shore up these concerns. Why should there be? Any par hacker would have enough backdoor brooms to obliterate his tracks. Let us make another comparison. It has been said that the net is a good servant but a vicious master. We have rendered it so much space that even Caesar would be teed off. To say it runs our lives is an understatement. Take a corporation, a multi-national or a bank. For all such organizations, there are real risks to using social media, ranging from damaging the brand to stealing secrets, exposing proprietary information, inviting lawsuits for copyright infringement and shoveling huge sums of money into building firewalls.
The militant has no such fears. Everything falls in his favor even if it goes off track temporarily. To him, all exposure is publicity and he thrives on it. And yet, what makes it all so insidious is that he is also the head of an organization, with a functioning hierarchy. So how can we but lose to him. We have given him all the cards.
TERRORISM BY TELEPHONY
For people at large the biggest fear is the ability these elements are obtaining to dismantle, freeze, turn rogue or confuse the computerized grids. Malfunctioning computers can bring cities to a halt. Yes, we have all seen those movies but we cannot get away from the fact that the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we let it get so far. We never realized that from petty crime and seamy chat rooms, it was a small, very small step to full-blown terrorism via the net.
From silly little six-digit passwords being our personal security to the mountain of data processed and available, we are vulnerable. Perhaps the first step is to individually exercise caution in sharing and giving those who might harm us undue publicity by passing on their written ideology or photographs. The frightening part is we do not even know we are doing it.
Just as a slew of TV crime shows have given criminals insight into forensic medicine and made them that much wiser, we do much the same to the professional killer. We feed him the road-map to disaster.