I was invited to participate with a presentation to the First International Interdisciplinary Cyber Security Conference, at Gelişim University, Istanbul, on 20 October 2017. The conference was organized by the CSRC-Global (Cyber Security Research Center) in cooperation with the New Media Department of Istanbul Gelişim University. It was the first scientific conference that was jointly organized by an NGO and a University in Turkey, and aimed to examine the cyber security issues in terms of technical, legal, social and economic aspects.
My presentation was entitled “Infoscapes”, below the introductory part. The complete paper will be published in the proceedings.
Life in the Infoscape
In a few decades there has been a wide diffusion of increasingly cheap computer-based devices, and the digital language has colonized the mediascape. Although some intermediate processes and final outcomes may be analogue, today the mediascape is digital-based. Some features of cinema are seemingly resisting to this process, especially because of the very high resolution and quality of film pictures, but it is just a matter of time.
Computer devices are very versatile because through software they can perform many tasks, and since the year 2000 the software industry has become the first economy on Earth. Software-based devices, microprocessors and algorithms are embedded almost everywhere. They help and rule many aspects of everyday life and societies, the way of living, working, learning, playing, getting in touch. They create new jobs and professional figures.1 Some imaginaries, narrations and ideas would not simply exist without computers and software.2 We live in the algorithm era.3
People tend to increasingly live inside the computer-related virtual dimension of symbolic communication, indeed they pass a relevant part of their time in working and amusing with digital devices, algorithms and on screens… And in this virtual symbolic habitat, in or through this infoscape, they take important life decisions.
The Infoscape as an insecure place
A consistent part of people’s lives deals with and is ruled by entities that are not human. Software agents and bots generate from 8% to 20% of all social network activity and over 50% of circulating emails. But the infoscape can be an insecure place.
Passwords are an underestimated issue.4 According to Edward Snowden, “a very common eight character password can literally take less than one second for a computer to go through the possibilities and pull that password”5. Although boring can be picking, remembering and writing down a strong password, Facebook is a promised land for hackers with more than 2 billion users. Password issues will become really hot when quantum computers are available, requiring new authentication systems.
Just a few weeks ago6 it was finally revealed that in 2013 three billion Yahoo accounts – the biggest cracking of all time – were compromised.
One month ago in Brussels a top manager of Confindustria – Italy’s biggest industry group representing more than 150 thousand Italian businesses and professional associations – lost 500 thousand euros of the association’s funds to online scammers. He responded to e-mails that he believed had been sent by the association’s director to transfer a large quantity of money. But they were fake, and the money was paid into a tax haven account.7
By the end of 2016 a malware named Mirai (in Japanese means “the future”) caused a huge Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Mirai automatically found unprotected Internet of Things devices to infect and conscripted them into a botnet that was used to mount distributed DDoS large-scale attacks.8
Bots have also been suspected to have influenced politics, distorting the 2016 US presidential elections.9 A study found an estimated 400 thousand bots operating on Twitter, generating nearly 20% of all election-related tweet messages.10
Just a few days ago researchers have disclosed a serious weakness in the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access II), the secure wireless computer networks protocol.11 Attackers within range of vulnerable devices can intercept passwords, e-mails and other data, and inject ransomware or other malicious content.
Software entities invisibly run inside computer-based devices and networks, and allow a large number of people’s activities. Most users are unaware or are not interested in this hidden entities and in their technical operations. But the activity of software agents can appear incomprehensible even to the programmers who have created or manage them.
Software entities can autonomously modify themselves or can be covertly modified to collect information or introduce errors. They can escape to the tasks and purposes they were made for and even to the experts’ control, acting similarly to living beings.
[The complete paper will be published in the proceedings of the event]
1 Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, New York, Bloomsbury Academics, 2013, Open Access Edition, online, https://goo.gl/PNG19v [Last access 12/10/17].
2 Klint Finley, “Tech Time Warp of The Week: Cyberpunk’s Not Dead. In Fact, We’re Living It”, Wired, 27/06/15, online, https://goo.gl/YQ2L2p [Last access 03/10/17].
3 Ed Finn, What Algorithms Want. Imagination in the Age of Computing, Cambridge (Mass.), MIT Press, 2017.
4 “Calculating Password Complexity”, Thycotic, 17/01/17, online, https://goo.gl/Bg3t2t [Last access 6/10/17].
5 John Oliver, “Edward Snowden on Passwords: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)”, 2’57”, Last Week Tonight, 9/4/2015, online, https://goo.gl/8iWTkM [Last access 15/09/17].
6 Dan Goodin, “Every Yahoo account that existed—all 3 billion—was compromised in 2013 hack”, ArsTechnica, 10/04/2017, online, https://arstechnica.com/?p=1179339 [Last access 5/10/17].
7 Roberto Mania, “Mr. Confindustria a Bruxelles truffato da un hacker: persi 500mila euro. Licenziato”, Repubblica.it, 30/09/17, online, https://goo.gl/h8Uz8Q [Last access 13/10/17]. James Panichi, “Confindustria fires top Brussels lobbyist as investigation into online scam continues”, mLex, online, 3/10/17, https://goo.gl/CbhYM9 [Last access 4/10/17].
8 Lily Hay Newman, “The Botnet that Broke the Internet Isn’t Going Away”, Wired, 12/09/16, online, https://goo.gl/kn16Fh [Last access 07/10/17].
9 Alessandro Bessi, Emilio Ferrara, “Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential election online”, First Monday, vol. 21, n. 11, 7/11/16, online, https://goo.gl/9BCRFf [Last access 12/10/17].
10 Nanette Byrnes, “How the Bot-y Politic Influenced This Election”, MIT Technology Review, 8/11/16, online, https://goo.gl/Kxz9nV [Last access 13/10/17].
11 Dan Goodin, “Serious flaw in WPA2 protocol lets attackers intercept passwords and much more”, Ars Technica, 16/10/17, online, https://arstechnica.com/?p=1187013 [Last access 15/10/17].