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In the New Wild West, a Computer May Be More Dangerous Than a Gun


I grew up in the Southwest, letís just say a long time ago. As a kid living outside Gallup, New Mexico, I literally had a rifle put in my hand as soon as I was strong enough to lift it. My cousins and I wandered the hills with .22s, shooting up everything in sight. We were a threat, but somehow, not to ourselves or each other. Despite all those boxes of ammo used up, nobody ever got hurt.

I chalk that up to my parents and relatives. My Dad was particularly firm: under no circumstances, ever, could I let the barrel of a gun point at a person. Not while moving it, not while itís in a holster or case, not loaded, not unloaded: never. Itís a practice that has stuck with me, possibly because the discipline of that era involved a swift whack to the head when I messed up. While you can never be entirely secure around a gun, you can certainly improve your odds if you and the people around you agree on some common practices.

Does this sound like the practice of network security to you?

Today our kids arenít growing up around guns like I did. That may or may not be a good thing, but it does mean that when they do handle guns, young people donít have the long training and reinforcement I did. What they are growing up with are computers, lots and lots of computers: PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, game consoles, network-attached TVs, you name it. And these computers have every bit as much potential to smash peopleís lives as guns. Literal homicide is likely harder (unless you whack someone on the head with your Computer), but catastrophic unintended consequences are potentially larger and certainly more numerous. Just ask anyone who has experienced identity theft.

Are we as adults giving children the same firm, repeated, reinforced training with computers that parents once gave with guns? Do we show them how to use computers safely, with consistent, repeated training? Do we teach them to respect their power? Do we teach them to engage in good security practices both online and in real life?

Iím afraid many of us donít. But some do, at least from the examples I see.

Once, car-pooling to an out-of-town contract, along the way we picked up one personís daughter to take to day care. She was a lovely child, and as her mother strapped her into her car seat I asked, ďWhatís your name?Ē

The girl immediately looked at her mother, then down at the book in her lap: Dora the Explorer. Turning to me, she said firmly, ďDora.Ē Which made her mother smile, and me too, because hey, how should she know me from Adam? Why would you give your real name to a stranger?

Itís a shame that we have to employ this as our default posture online Ė but we very much do. Consider: why would you use your real name for that free email account? Arenít you just giving away personal information to anyone who sees your email address? Or: did you give your real birthday to that social media site? Uh-oh: never share that critical piece of information publicly, especially if youíre not aware what can be done with it. (Hint: legitimate businesses use it to verify identity.)

Weíre surrounded by threats like hunters in a crowded forest. One of my Dadís friends once said he ďgot off a couple of good sound shotsĒ while weíd all been out hunting deer. Iíll never forget how Dad exploded at the man about not doing a visual check as well. I was genuinely terrified by his reaction, and it made an impression that stuck: I have never, ever fired at a sound. We need the same kind of absolute prescriptions online.

The problem is that we are facing threats that never existed before. Itís hard even to be aware of them, much less beware of them. What exactly are we warning about, and how? The truth is we canít teach anything but a defensive posture: donít trust, donít reveal, donít assume. Particularly donít assume anonymity or invisibility; quite the reverse.

Weíre at the Wild West stage of the Internet: the pioneers have come and gone, the big operators are building their mines and ranches, and now comes the plague of carpetbaggers. Just as children once grew up surrounded by guns, but somehow managed to survive, our children now are growing up in the mine-strewn trench warfare landscape of the Internet. It can in fact be navigated with some degree of safety, but not by the incautious.

It falls to us Ė whether we are teachers, parents or security engineers Ė to bring up the next generation with some hope of survival. The challenge is to simultaneously encourage exploration and enforce security, or if thatís not available, at least some degree of safety. Our culture weathered the frontier era more or less successfully, so Iím inclined to believe we can deal with the threats of the Internet. The challenge is to do it with minimal damage.

Source:: In the New Wild West, a Computer May Be More Dangerous Than a Gun - Darkmatters