What many of the recently infamous hackers have in common, aside from being bright with little relevant experience which would make them capable of handling serious jail time, is that they do not know the way the world really works.
They seem to be unfamiliar with cause and effect. Many of them unknowingly thread the thin line between legality and illegality. In the evolving landscape of cyber-crime legislation what was quasi-legal and unregulated yesterday may be highly illegal tomorrow.
Most “security researchers” stay on the right side of the street but even in doing so they inevitably rub shoulders with those who are not. Something that aspiring researchers should remember is that “ignorance” is never a defence in a court of law. If and when someone chooses to wander across to the shadier side of the street (knowingly or unknowingly) they find themselves way out of their depth.
There is a very big gulf of reality between facing down a virtual opponent in a chatroom and eyeballing a professional interrogator in an “interview suite”. I have sat on both sides of that particular table, sometimes in places that the most intrepid backpacker wouldn’t consider going, and it is not a place that you want to be.
Being a criminal or a member of an organized crime gang used to involve certain stages or rituals. It was a way of life sometimes forced on people as a result of their environment or poverty or family history or simply a conscious decision. Criminals are not always victims of circumstance.
For serious criminals it was an informed choice of sorts. It normally began with petty crime and graduated into more serious categories of crime as time passed. As the scale, sophistication, and seriousness of the crimes being committed grew so too did the tariff.
But the career criminal was more or less aware of this and the risk-return ratio. Also, to be effective in crime at the levels where it potentially attracted a forty year prison term, one had to have a network, contacts, tools, “pedigree”, and lots of other stuff. Not any more.
Jail sentences of these types for these hackers are not jail sentences, they are death sentences. Warming a concrete mattress in a concrete cage for twice as long as you have already been on the planet leaves these people with few choices.
They find themselves sharing space with men who have committed all sorts of crimes that actually involve leaving their mothers house. All of the lobbying and strongly worded letters from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty International, family run crowd funding efforts, and emotional tweet storms will not help them when that door closes.
The phenomenon of the new criminals is highly contradictory. We now see fresh faced “deer in the headlights” types facing the sort of time that would make harder men cry for their mother.
I increasingly find myself developing a “Luddite” mindset where unregulated VRSNs are concerned. Digital footprinting is becoming passé. The core toolset of mass surveillance is beginning a fundamental shift whose focus is less about observation than it is about manipulation. I like to call it “Orwell 4.0”.
[Data collection / mining apps in use by Alphabet Agencies have been well covered on this blog and include XKeyscore; PRISM; ECHELON; Carnivore; DISHFIRE; STONEGHOST; Tempora; Frenchelon; Fairview; MYSTIC; DCSN; Boundless; Informant; BULLRUN; PINWALE; Stingray; SORM; DANCINGOASIS; SPINNERET; MOONLIGHTPATH; INCENSER; AZUREPHOENIX]
A sort of post-Orwellian “Big Bro” application of subliminal advertising is emerging but this way round the subliminal message is not directed at the product preferences of a consumer but rather the individuals social, economic and political affiliations, opinions and reactions.
Where does this sit with the Federal Communications Commission findings over forty years ago that declared subliminal advertising “contrary to the public interest” because it involved “intentional deception” of the public.
It seems “intentional deception” is about to go mainstream with the support of the likes of Zuckerberg but now with a far more sinister raison d’être.
Are You In A Virtual Police State?
A pretty loose and old list of factors that can help to determine where a nation lies on The Electronic Police State standings does serve to demonstrate the arrival of these new “tools” (by their complete absence in the list):
Daily Documents Requirement of state-issued identity documents and registration;
Border Issues Inspections at borders, searching computers, demanding decryption of data;
Financial Tracking State’s ability to search and record all financial transactions: Checks, credit card use, wires, etc;
Gag Orders Criminal – penalties if you tell someone the state is searching their records;
Anti-Crypto Laws Outlawing or restricting cryptography;
Constitutional Protection – A lack of constitutional protections for the individual, or the overriding of such protections;
Data Storage Ability – The ability of the state to store the data they gather;
Data Search Ability – The ability to search the data they gather;
ISP Data Retention States forcing Internet Service Providers to save detailed records of all their customers’ Internet usage;
Telephone Data Retention States forcing telephone companies to record and save records of all their customers’ telephone usage;
Cell Phone Records States forcing cellular telephone companies to record and save records of all their customers’ usage;
Medical records States demanding records from all medical service providers and retaining the same;
Enforcement Ability The state’s ability to use overwhelming force (exemplified by SWAT Teams) to seize anyone they want, whenever they want;
Habeus Corpus Lack of habeus corpus – the right not to be held in jail without prompt due process. Or, the overriding of such protections;
Police-Intel Barrier The lack of a barrier between police organizations and intelligence organizations. Or, the overriding of such barriers;
Covert Hacking State operatives removing – or adding! – digital evidence to/from private computers covertly. Covert hacking can make anyone appear as any kind of criminal desired;
Loose Warrants Warrants issued without careful examination of police statements and other justifications by a truly independent judge.
The NextGen Counter Measures Are Proactive Before The “Thought” Emerges
Traditional mass surveillance will ultimately be relegated to a support role by the emerging tech of augmented and virtual reality with the assistance of covert biometric data acquisition, facial and gait recognition data also extracted covertly from “innocuous” social media posts and AR/VR interactions on VRSN’s.
And of course the “carrot & stick” tools that will look to alter subjects attitudes and opinions by harvesting emotional responses (using retina-tracking for example) and “cleansing” these attitudes and opinions to what is the “preferred” [state] response / opinion / attitude / reaction (or more likely lack of reaction).
[As one chief data scientist at an unnamed Silicon Valley company told Harvard business professor Shoshanna Zuboff: “The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. … We can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.”] – The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism; 05.03.2016, von SHOSHANA ZUBOFF.]
A research team* at one of my Alma Mater’s Dublin City University wrote a paper in 2014 that postulated that with AR, VR and AI in VRSN’s that subjects and their world view could be tweaked or changed.
[“The rapid evolution of information, communication and entertainment technologies will transform the lives of citizens and ultimately transform society. This paper focuses on ethical issues associated with the likely convergence of virtual realities (VR) and social networks (SNs), hereafter VRSNs. We examine a scenario in which a significant segment of the world’s population has a presence in a VRSN. Given the pace of technological development and the popularity of these new forms of social interaction, this scenario is plausible. However, it brings with it ethical problems. Two central ethical issues are addressed: those of privacy and those of autonomy. VRSNs pose threats to both privacy and autonomy. The threats to privacy can be broadly categorized as threats to informational privacy, threats to physical privacy, and threats to associational privacy. Each of these threats is further subdivided. The threats to autonomy can be broadly categorized as threats to freedom, to knowledge and to authenticity. Again, these three threats are divided into subcategories. Having categorized the main threats posed by VRSNs, a number of recommendations are provided so that policy-makers, developers, and users can make the best possible use of VRSNs.”]
Using VRSN Scenarios for Thought Manipulation & Conditioning
VRSN scenario manipulations are well suited to programming behaviour as well as altering opinion in the “target” or what we used to call the “user”. The “user” tag is no longer accurate in my opinion because the function of the “user” is to extract value from the experience. The “user” in now the “interactor”. In the new scenarios the value extraction (or injection) is enjoyed by the “publisher” or “controller”. [For publisher substitute “government”, “alphabet agency” or “despot”] – the emergent field of surveillance politics and mass manipulation.
The preferred “interactor” attitude and ultimate acceptance/agreement with ideas, opinions, reactions and points of view can be engineered by programming avatar responses to concepts in the form of gestures and facial expressions in response to these stimuli (simple applications being “happy”, “sad”, “neutral”, “angry” avatar responses).
When exposed to subject matter the VRSN can gauge the “interactors” opinions in broad terms using the analysis of the “interactors” emotional responses via eye-tracking or emotion capture and send the avatar the preferred reaction in line with the preferred opinion that the “controller” wishes the “interactor” to hold – if the kinematic fingerprinting suggests that the “interactor” does not hold the “correct” opinion.
The reality is that VRSN’s actual knowledge of the “interactors” affiliations increases exponentially over time as do the metrics which show the successful alteration / cleansing of these “opinions” over time and the A/B testing of experimental methods to produce that result in a “target”.
In an apparent contradiction the VRSN sort of goes back to the “old world” school of line of sight observation of a surveillance “target” (replacing digital footprints) but with one major difference – the observation is paired with “alteration” capabilities – all delivered while you enjoy your leisure time playing in your VRSN. Brave new virtual world.
The Convergence of Virtual Reality and Social Networks: Threats to Privacy and AutonomyAuthors:
*Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland. Fiachra.firstname.lastname@example.org. *Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland. email@example.com. *Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Dublin, Ireland. firstname.lastname@example.org. *Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Dublin, Ireland. email@example.com. *Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland. firstname.lastname@example.org. *Institute of Ethics, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland. email@example.com.
The Convergence of Virtual Reality and Social Networks: Threats to Privacy and AutonomyReferences