Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cyberwar and Breaking the Forth Wall

Immunity is a company, but corporate survival required that long ago we develop a braintrust to understand large sweeping ideas about cyber war.

In particular, we attributed the Sony Pictures attack to North Korea very early on , we have a different understanding of what a cyber weapon is, and we see the current conflict between Apple and the FBI in a very different light from most people.

When my friends from Apple ask me for the Immunity take on the lawsuit, the honest answer is that the lawsuit is a tiny part of an ongoing re-alignment between Governments and the tech industry we all rely on, much as the war in Iraq was a realignment of the balance between the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia.

We see everything post-Snowden, including this lawsuit, as a failure of the US Government to understand how national sovereignty has changed due to the Internet and a complete lack of understanding that they are in the middle of an insurgency that requires counter insurgency tactics, and not simple legal efforts. This is not a popular position, needless to say.

Insurgencies are always a battle of ideas, would be our response.

And of course, the most famous insurgency of all time had a bit to do with the limits to search and seizure. But let's take a look at the optics for a sec:

The FBI's position on Apple is the most telling thing, because it is every government's position, in the sense that Apple's desire to protect their reputation isn't worth two cents of consideration by the FBI. As far as the FBI is concerned, a 1% chance of finding anything useful on that iPhone is worth a 99% chance of destroying Apple's reputation or international market position. That's not what a COIN scholar would call "Sharing the risk".

But not wrong. :)

Let me put it broader: The FBI does't think the tech industry's opinion matters, because the tech industry is part of a much larger population that the FBI represents. But if you took a national survey of Iraq as to how the country should be run, all the oil profits and national decisions would of course rest with the Shia in Baghdad. The FBI's lawsuit against Apple is exactly that national referendum. They may win it legally. They may win it in the court of public opinion. But they will have already lost it in the places that matter precisely because the FBI doesn't think they matter.

The CEO of Twitter thinks your strategy is bullshit, Jim Comey.
So no matter if they win a court case based on a law created before electricity, the idea of prosecuting it is a stupid stupid idea by an FBI team that doesn't even realize what kind of war it is fighting. Has anyone asked them what happens if they win? What happens when every customer, instead of getting a U2 album on their phone, gets free end to end encryption that inter-operates with Google's Android and does voice as well? All they have to do is put Signal on the top of both app stores and wait.

What the FBI needs to do at the top level is realize a slow managed landing from the golden age of surveillance is preferable to a sudden crashing exit where now you're fighting a tech war you can't win against all the former government engineers that you can no longer attract to work for you.

But it may be too late to do the smart thing. Our only hope of resolution might be just to buy the FBI all a copy of Snow Crash. Honestly it boggles my mind when policy people haven't read that book. If you're reading this and you're doing policy work, spend the two hours it takes to look at Neal Stephenson's take on how this ends up and tell me why he's wrong. :)

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