Embrace the Chaos

Blog Post created by rapid7-admin on Oct 26, 2010

Originally Posted by Sean Taylor



Something I never stop thinking about is who the power brokers of any given society are. Think of it this way: if there was one group out there, toiling and working and doing all sorts of tasks, who decided one day to give the rest of the world the finger, just how hard would society crash and burn? One of my favorite examples to think about is what would happen if everybody who cooked food-- and I mean everybody, not just McDonald's and its facsimiles-- decided one day to go the Rand route and run away to an island of delicious selfishness. (Deliselfishness? Selfeliciousness? Those puns don't work at all. Horrible syllables.) 

Granted it's obviously an impossible scenario. There are so many different factors involved with calculating that route. Why on earth would they do that in the first place? Cooking is their livelihood. In order to function in our current society-- globally, not just in the States-- one must work in order to gain currency in order to survive. So if they did that, they'd need a back-up plan-- perhaps cooking for themselves and living entirely in isolation, crafting their own society disjoint from the necessity for formal currency. So if the food industry went this route... well, humanity would probably collapse in about a week or so. Or at least a significantly lazy chunk of it would. 

Back to reality, though. Power doesn't totally work that way, as much fun as it is to think about. Everyone has power over someone who has power over them. It's a very circular social framework. It comes down to a measure of who has the most power given the context of what a given society considers the most valuable resource. Take
John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie. At the right place and the right time, they completely dominated the market for oil and steel in a time that was in serious need of both of them. Arguably, they were the most powerful men of their time because society's needs and wants dictated them to be. Everyone needed oil because of the energy and production it brought and everyone needed steel for the vast expansion of construction that occurred during the industrial age. They became well-known not only for philanthropy but for anchoring the idea of the rich spending their vast wealth on the benefits for the poor. Andrew Carnegie, for example, established a plethora of libraries. Even in death, the power they harnessed in that era have left a permanent mark on the world. Rockefeller Center and Carnegie Hall are names you no doubt recognize if you're from the United States. 

These two men didn't have complete bone-crushing power over the populous of the world forever-- in fact, the U.S. government asserted power over them. The steel and oil industries eventually came under heavy scrutiny for their respective resource monopolies, mostly in part by passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Eventually, the oil and steel monopolies were broken up into (relatively) smaller chunks, thus diluting and diffusing the power they once had, all because a few other guys had more power over them. Obviously these two industries still hold an immense amount of power today-- oil specifically colluded with one another to form a formal oil cartel (OPEC)-- but not the power they once had in their golden age. People still need the very basics that oil and steel eventually provide-- but not to the degree they needed it before. 

It's very easy to become entrenched in the idea of an outside authority (e.g., cops, 5-0, po-po, The Man, Master of Donuts, etc.) being at the top of the pyramid of power. That's not completely true. Their power only comes when they have the information to carry out their authority over you. They, too, have forces above them telling them whether or not they can come after you. Not to mention their power over you is purely contextual-- just like any power, really. 

The determination of which group of people becomes more powerful than the other has always come down to a factor of resources. This is why the world is constantly at war: Faction A tries to steal Faction B's resources so Faction A can get ahead of Faction B (e.g., Africa and the age of imperialism, practically the entire history of oil harvesting, etc.). This is simply a human constant and will keep occurring until we reach post-scarcity of all resources-- though even then, it's a toss-up whether or not we'll stop killing each other. So the chain of questions to determining who has power goes from "who has power?" to "who has resources?" to "which resources?" to "who has those resources?" 

Much like the Industrial Age, we've reached a new period of human innovation: the Information Age. (I know, big shock.) In this age, the penultimate resource is pretty obvious: information. Of any kind. Information is one of the best resources to have control over: it's infinite, important and powerful. Information can convey anything from an idea to a song to a series of images. But if you have a ton of information-- say a terabyte worth-- is it actually worth anything? Not necessarily. The information is only worth as much as what someone who wants that information says it is. Hell, the resource is
infinite. Finiteness is not a factor of worth at all. 

Interestingly, the world fears hackers for all the wrong reasons. It's a natural (though irrational) human instinct to be afraid of what one doesn't understand. The reason the world
should fear hackers is their ability to understand information. Hackers not only make both unseen and unforeseen logical connections, but they also know how to use those logical connections to their own advantage. Hackers understand how information travels from one endpoint to another-- encrypted or not. Because of their clairvoyance and intimate relationship with information, hackers can also hide themselves in plain sight. 

In case it wasn't obvious, the point I'm trying to get at here is that right now, at this very moment, hackers have extreme world-reaching social power. Not INTERPOL, not the paramilitaries of the modern world: hackers. 

Everyone needs information. Everyone wants communication. Everything is information. And hackers are the people who can casually stroll through the mounds of bits and bytes of information conveying various ideas and concepts, parse them and exploit them with nary a thought. 

While worded with a hint of drama, this isn't intended to be a Halloween special. It's more-or-less a generalized statement of fact. Many countries have realized this, the United States being the most obvious and visible with its government-adopted hacking programs. Russia is frequently leaning on its hacker populous to silence dissidents and exert power over Georgia. But I think the most fascinating-- and most intelligent-- display of this new-age power is what the Chinese government is doing. 

China has a boatload of SOCKS proxies at its disposal. These don't belong to simply the Chinese government, though-- they're very much open to the entire Internet. When Aurora dropped, the Chinese government threw up its hands and gave the predictable "wasn't me!" defense. Not until it was discovered the targets were Chinese government dissidents was it truly confirm-able the Chinese government was behind the attacks. This is because anyone in the world can attack from China. And the Chinese use this to their advantage. It's a brilliant ploy that really only works best here in the Information Age. The strategy employs leveraging the fact that
too much information exists in order to prevent the accurate fingerpointing of China for any attacks they perform. Any Chinese IP address involved in an attack by virtue of the country's plethora of proxies cannot be explicitly tied back to China. China is implicitly a country with a lot of holes in it-- some attacker could have commandeered a Chinese machine for his activities if a proxy didn't suffice. So when India's satellite network was taken down-- perhaps caused by Stuxnet-- was it China? Or was it an outside source? The article notes China's competitiveness with India, which might be an indicator... but it's just not enough to point the finger! 

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Information Age. Sure, you have tons and tons of information at your disposal. Sure, the privacy of many individuals around the world probably exists in every country's data farms on some hard-drive buried underground. But what does that mean if you can't find the information? This contradiction is not dissimilar to the infamous "
Time Enough at Last" episode of The Twilight Zone. How can you read that which you can't see? 

Those who expertly harness the chaos of the Information Age are its owners. Those who are capable of parsing and traveling amongst the infinite arrays of data are the Age's power-brokers. This is why the world should fear-- and more importantly, embrace-- hackers. Not because they know a lot about computers, like to tinker with things to learn about their intricacies or can steal money from under your nose-- those are all rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. Hackers not only know
where to get information, but can also understand how and why it's important because of the infinite resources at their disposal. Hackers have extreme control over information-- control its aspiring suppressors could only dream of having. They have vast power. 

There's only one way to fight an opponent with infinite resources: more intelligent utilization of those resources than the opponent.