Are Americans caught in the crossfire of a cyber-war between terrorists and the agencies of both foreign and domestic governments? These agencies, as well as certain rogue nations and terrorists are aggressively collecting information in many new ways and at multiple levels that target banking, government operations, industry and now the personal information on individual citizens. The scope of ‘how and why’ this information can and is being used is very broad, and beyond the comprehension of many people. But to what end could such information be used? Possibly to strike key members of our military? Are the enemies of America now focused on destabilizing our economy through a crippling blow to our critical infrastructure? Probably! And if so, is there data that can be gleaned from individual citizens that would assist these nefarious entities in hacking into and destroying America’s critical infrastructure, such as the national electrical grid? Absolutely!
Few people haven’t heard about the whole NSA spying thing and that’s not new… What I am detailing below is new in the media.
When the media first started talking about the NSA spying on citizens last year (2013), various imagery would come to mind as average Americans pondered that possibility. Some people may have imagined a couple young techies sitting in a room full of sophisticated computers with a desk full of monitors in front of them, drinking Mountain Dew, eating Cheetos and laughing as they listen-in on some poor sod on the phone with his wife telling her about the cool blinking glow-in-the-dark condom he just bought, or something of that ilk…. But that’s not the case.
The reality is that teams of highly educated and motivated hackers (computer geniuses), with the support of psychologists, have established that there is a wealth of data that has been collected already, and continually being collected by social media websites and stored on relatively easily hacked servers. The Chinese (and others) are well aware of the ‘jackpot’ of social media data which could be harvested and used by the latest-generation of super-computers that are currently being employed by various agencies and groups.
If this data could be timely harvested and compiled by enemies of the U.S., it would greatly enhance their ability to pierce various security protocols that are in place to protect critical computers which manage things like banking, Wall Street, the national electrical grid, defense systems, communications and much more.
There was a very interesting article in FORTUNE magazine recently that outlined the reason why the Russian government tore-down the memorial to Steve Jobs (Apple’s co-founder). One reason given was that the Russian government claims that Apple uses its devices to spy on its users!
I expected as much given that about 5-years back, I reviewed a contract that DARPA was soliciting to develop a new type of extremely high-speed data harvesting algorithm. But this was no ordinary ‘data-scraper’! This algorithm would be designed as an application for the new-generation of supercomputers that were starting to be developed at that time. The algorithm that was being sought would; in real ‘actionable-time’, harvest and compile data that would generate a ‘profile’ (the computer creates an A.I. or interactive version of a harvested personality). These individual interactive profiles would provide insights into individual people at the deepest personal levels, as well as including and providing other more common data such as demographic data, birth-date, passwords, desires, dislikes, fears, friends, addresses, ages, their DOBs, favorite colors, school info, how often, how many and what types of groceries and supplies a person/household buys, etc… etc. Basically, more information about an individual person than that person could list on paper during a several hour disclosure process that would also include a psychological evaluation. And a supercomputer with the right software couple compile, create and manage hundreds of millions of these interactive profiles with great ease.
I have coined a new phrase, ‘interactive profile’ in regard to this paradigm that is generally defined as follows: The supercomputer collects so much detailed information about an individual real person that it can create a basic artificial intelligent version of that individual’s personality; or a basic facsimile of the individual’s mind; where an artificial personality is likened to an interactive program. And this program can provide behavioral responses (predictions) to certain inputs or stimuli, which are provided to the program by the supercomputer as needed in real-time, or as designated by the programmer. In other words, the A.I. personality could be given data related to vanilla ice-cream, and the response might be; ‘desirable’. Another input could be a ‘spider’ and the response might be; ‘undesirable’. Of course in addition to such responses, there could be nuances or intensities related to the response; I.E. ‘desirable; scale 1-10)’ or ‘undesirable; scale 1-10)’
Sounds like science fiction right? It’s not!
In 2011, I was privy to a contract that DARPA submitted to a wide range of computer science experts; schools like MIT and civilian contractors, seeking the development of this high-speed algorithm. And because I had a copy of that DARPA contract, I was well aware of its details and design specifications…. remember, that was 3 years ago.
The way the desired algorithm could (is working?) work is that: DARPA at certain levels was at that time aware of the data-sets that were, and still are being collected by the various social media websites like Facebook, much of which is arguably beyond the scope of just ‘enhancing a user’s online experience’ as disclosed in their User Agreement.
Darpa’s Big Dog from 3 years ago. What can it do now?
But having access to the scores of data-sets on hundreds of millions of individual people in real-time is only half of the problem when a domestic or foreign government agency or company wants to ‘deal’ with an individual or a group of people in real *actionable* time. All the data that has been collected, and can be collected, must, in real actionable time (within seconds), be converted into a complete profile of the individual in question, including a psychological profile. Even with super computers that are operating at speeds reaching hundreds of petaflops, which can concurrently communicate with millions of computers at the same time, they cannot create and or update these highly complex composite interactive ‘profiles’ in an ‘actionable’ time-frame without a special algorithm (the software).
(*actionable time-frame means: In the amount of time someone (or a computer) takes to look at an individual photo, an entire composite interactive profile is created (or updated if it exists) and is available; everything about that person, their entire life, predispositions, deepest desires, fears, family (and extensive details there too), friends and everything about them as well, etc…).
Facebook (and numerous other social media websites) has been collecting dozens of data-sets on all of its users for many years now! And the amount and scope of data that Facebook alone collects on its users is shocking. And for Preppers, this presents the ultimate antithesis to OPSEC.
So what is all this data being used for? Well, you can bet that it’s not all necessarily being used in anyone’s best interests. For instance; where a ‘bad guy’ is seeking access to a secure server for nefarious purposes, one method of many methods is to crack the password protection. Of course when you have a supercomputer operating at hundreds of petaflops, and you also have an intensively deep insight (data sets) into the system administrator’s (mind) life and highly detailed personal profile, as developed in real-time through a well-designed piece of software, it takes the computer far less time to hack into the system.
Alternatively, the same nefarious entity might also know for instance; that your little daughter’s elementary school gets-out and that your wife is picking her up at 3:30 PM (data potentially collected from Facebook posts) and the local street traffic camera has already ‘marked’ the license plate of your wife’s mini-van in the area (computer has accessed that data in conjunction to the operation). At that point, the perpetrator’s operatives collect your wife and daughter, and then sends you a Skype message over your smart phone instructing you to provide the secure access code/password data to a targeted computer server, lest your wife and daughter disappear forever. All of which can happen in the space of 5 minutes, including the hack into a secured mission critical computer. Of course these examples are somewhat simplified for purposes of illustration.
In the Warner Bros. Pictures episode of the Batman series, ‘The Dark Knight’, Batman uses a powerful computer to hack into all of the cellphones in Gotham City simultaneously, and uses those phones as individual sensors at tens of thousands of discrete locations in his search for the Joker. Of course what may seem as an impressive feat in the Batman fiction, is actually nothing more than a trivial and miniscule exercise by comparison for the actual petaflop speed computers of today.
A computer like the one being discussed, equipped with the algorithm and supporting software could accomplish this on its own, and do so (with hundreds of variations of the blackmail) to a thousand people or more in the same space of time, once being programed to do so. And it could do so with great ease, while concurrently undertaking and performing millions of other complex operations.
I have touched on the ‘big picture’ and who is interested in collecting the data on individuals, and why that data is important enough to warrant such an effort.
And for Preppers, having an in-depth understanding of this threat is useful for spotting the earmarks of such a Cyber War which allows the timely implementation of your survival strategy.
But when you follow the money, there are also other billion-dollar motives for collecting and profiling your personal data. The private retail and wholesale consumer products industries are very interested in your ‘data’. Using the same type of supercomputers (they are now in existence) and the same algorithm (likely in use today) producing extremely detailed ‘interactive profiling data’ on millions of individual people, analysts can predict what commodities various categories of people will buy, and when they will buy those commodities. The money that can be made from this knowledge is in the realm of billions of dollars annually. Analysts with access to such computers (using these computers equipped with the software) can predict how individuals (down to a person) will react to various stimuli, including ‘news’ and ‘information’ that’s ‘tailored’ (may be psychologically engineered for the desired effect) and then pumped into the main artery of the social media distribution channels (Internet, TV, radio). So the entities who control these powerful computers can be one step ahead of the public in things like the stock-market (where they constantly win), or in the case of avoiding a potential disaster (leaving town ahead of computer-predicted mass social unrest)
The power of the combination of the available data and the algorithm are not trivial by any means, and can be abused in ways that are just now being understood by some.
Some scientists and psychologists are working down a parallel path to this paradigm, as you can read in this abstract from the National Academy of Sciences and Princeton University:
So, now that you know, what, if anything are you going to do about it?
If you are truly interesting in pursuing the potential evil that is disguised by shiny devices and colorful interactive graphical user interfaces (GUIs), you could start by reaching out to your local elected representatives, demanding that they pass laws that will prevent and prohibit social media websites from collecting and storing the personal private data (possibly unlawfully) on you, your family and friends, as well as millions of other Americans. If I were the President, I would immediately ask the House and Senate to pass a bill making it illegal for social media websites to collect the kind and scope of data that is currently being collected (it’s well beyond the concept of making the ‘user experience better’), and barring the collection of any personal data on our military personnel, law enforcement personnel, ‘systems administrators’ and analysts who work in the computer security sectors.
Of course Facebook and others will say that ‘Users’ have agreed to their terms of service and the collection of all your info. My response to such rhetoric is that the complexity of the legal boilerplate they use combined with the length of the ‘Agreement’ is fully beyond the scope of comprehension of even some attorneys, let alone the ‘Users’ themselves, who in most cases just assume it must be fine and click the ‘I agree’ button so they can hang-out online. It takes a competent lawyer to read and fully understand the ‘terms of service’ agreements for the social media websites, and few if any ‘Users’ have the time, legal knowledge, money or the inclination to have it read by a lawyer before they can begin using the application. On top of which, these companies keep adding more and more language to the ‘terms’ and they say that by continuing to use their website, you automatically agree to the additional terms, which enhance their legal power over the ‘Users’.
I would propose the first step in protecting the personal privacy of Americans as being:
ALL of these online user agreements need to be re-written into easy-to-understand layman’s language so that the ‘User’ actually stands a chance of understanding what it is that they are agreeing to (should be part of the aforementioned ‘bill’). I have a feeling that many people wouldn’t ‘agree’ to use some sites if they actually understood the agreement in the first place.
As Americans, our elected officials should never allow us to be violated in this manner, and any government that tolerates citizens being treated in this manner needs to be replaced, a sentiment that I believe is shared by most Americans and the citizens of many other nations today.
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Frequent contributor, Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family using sailboats that he equipped for that purpose. Capt. Bill holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial inspected passenger vessels, including, power, sail and assistance towing vessels. He is also the author of many articles on sailing and the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press) You can read more from the Nautical Prepper on Capt. Bill’s personal site at www.williamesimpson.com