This week, the US government has admitted that hackers have been inside government systems for years, and are more than likely still there. The rogue collective of hackers is known as APT6 and is believed to be ‘state sponsored’ – though the reality is that the US government has no idea. What is known, is that the expert cyber criminals have access to the most sensitive data held in government networks around the nation and that they have also targeted countless corporate and private networks throughout the westernised world.
The hackers are everywhere
With the knowledge that the massive OPM hack was not a one-off, and that APT6 are relentless, unstoppable, and capable of hacking everything and anything. With the acceptance of chaos comes a sense of doom. A realisation dawns – that maybe our privacy concerns against the actions of our own government – is ridiculous when compared to the dangerously skillful ‘outside’ threat.
After all, if hackers acting for private – not state – private interests – can out-snoop our own snooping antics by such a noticeable advantage. Then, of course, we should have to admit that we are totally screwed and that we must, in fact, be desperately in need of the help that our governments are attempting to provide.
Our own governments’ knowing about us is not that troubling when compared to the loftier problem of – whoever the hell is hacking their way into just about everything we own. Surely we should trust our own agencies? ‘Things are out of control,’ we ponder, beginning to warm to the idea that surveillance is just our government doing its best to watch over us and protect us.
At the recent debate at Arizona University, in which privacy heavyweights Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky discussed privacy – or the lack of. The conversation about the escalating problem at the heart of connectivity was limited to relatively unchallenging areas of discussion.
Snowden commented that ‘reasonable people can disagree about where we should draw the lines of surveillance, no one argues that we should shut down every surveillance program in the country. No one says we should list the names of everybody that is under surveillance in the newspapers on an individualised basis, but if we are to have a democracy. If we are to be partners to, rather than subjects to it, we must know at least the broad powers and privileges that the government is claiming. They must let us know of what they are doing in our name and what they are doing against us. Or else we are no longer directed by the public; we are ruled from above.’
Glenn Greenwald did a pretty good job of explaining why being constantly watched is dehumanising,
‘When other people are watching what you are doing you are much more likely to engage in decision making that is the bi-product of societal orthodoxy or external expectations and not a bi-product of your own agency and independence.’
While the debate was interesting, one can’t help wondering why more wasn’t said about the more burning issue that our government can’t protect us even if it wants to. That it can’t even promise to limit our surveillance to its own ‘necessary’ security practices, but instead must admit that they have no control over foreign hackers such as APT6. ‘It’s just flabbergasting. How many times can this keep happening before we finally realize we’re screwed?” Comments Michael Adams (an information security expert that used to work for the US Special Operations Command), commenting on the continued attacks on US government networks.
How many times indeed?
As you watch the three famed speakers talking about the importance of privacy boundaries and the right to be informed about snooping. Comparing their perspectives on the limits and possible excess points of surveillance, and how those privacy requirements might be met in the future, one is left with the cold feeling that it isn’t helping. Because what you see occurring on the stage, is three of the most prominent human privacy personalities of our generation helping to usher in the new ’acceptable’ standard.
That as long as we are told what is going on regarding surveillance (and why) things are somehow better than what they were before. Sadly, the celebrity panel feels manufactured, a part of the engine, the three stooges are just another step in the psychological mind wash that begun with Snowden’s leak three years ago.
Now we are communicating about accepting what before we thought was disgusting. Now, by knowing – by being told – at least we are involved in the digital enslavement of our identities, and this we are made to believe is a vast improvement.
In fact, with the frank admission from US authorities that hackers have the ability to not only put individuals such as ourselves under surveillance but also to snoop on the governments that place us under surveillance the reality is that Snowden and co left out some of the most important privacy issues of all.
In Canada, they have a futuristic new technology called D-Wave. D-Wave is a second generation ‘quantum’ computer that is able to perform tasks faster than ever before. Its processing power is already being used to make research breakthroughs that would never have been possible without it. Commenting on the D-Wave 2X quantum computer (that it runs alongside NASA in California), Google director of engineering Hartmut Neven said,
‘We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1,000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 108 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core.’
What seems rather likely, is that if Canada and the US (both corporate and State interests) have access to computer processing power 100 million times faster than a normal computer chip – then so do privately backed interests elsewhere. Do not forget that we live in a time where private individuals are immensely wealthy, and nations are all in debt – struggling to even pay the deficit on those debts.
With the high likelihood that rogue privately-controlled hackers have access to these futuristic technologies. Technologies that are able to break encryption better than is ever admitted by mainstream protagonists such as Snowden and Greenwald: Comes the realisation that privacy on the Internet is very seriously doomed, and only going to get worse as more and more breakthroughs are made. Privacy is dead, and the time has come for us to bury it and give it a nice funeral. This is the cold hard reality of the new legislation being passed by governments around the world (such as the Snoopers charter in the UK), and the ‘privacy hero’ Snowden had his part to play in ushering in the new paradigm to the public consciousness.