Players and Programs

by rthieme on June 25, 1998

When I spoke last year at the Black Hat Briefings (the first open conversation between the best of the hacking underground and members of the intelligence establishment), it was difficult to tell the players without a program. That was true on a macro level as well. The dissolution of national boundaries and the difficulty of determining a person’s ultimate allegiance makes the landscape blur.

Some corporations work more closely with their governments than others. One executive of a large American company felt strongly that the playing field was not level. The government of France was helping a major competitor collect intelligence, while our government agencies could not help his corporation without helping all in the industry.

Now the Chief of the NSA, Kenneth Minihan, has told a Senate committee that programmers hired to fix the Y2K bug might be employed by a hostile nation, inserting more bugs than they remove, or be willing to leak proprietary information about a company. The difficulty in this time of shifting allegiances and semi-permeable boundaries is that the ultimate destination of collected information is unknown, and national, corporate, and individual interests difficult to unravel.

The warfare for which nations with less than state-of-the-art battlefield technologies are preparing includes information warfare and structural sabotage. A society without electricity, banking, or communications can fire all its missiles, but at who, exactly, or what?

Gives a person a headache, doesn’t it? Makes one miss the days of the Cold War when our myths, at least, enabled us to frame reality in a way that made sense, kind of. Those myths are dead and new ones have not yet emerged. Digital links often break. Some suggest identities that – as you reach for the hand of a real person – disappear like the Cheshire cat, leaving only a grin behind.

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