Deep Insecurities Affect Business and Society

It’s increasingly apparent that businesses, government entities and others are ill-equipped to deal with new and increasingly powerful cyber-attacks. Not only are assaults becoming more common and more virulent, but the stakes continue to grow.

According to Leonard Adleman, a creator of DNA computing, a co-creator of the RSA encryption algorithm and a recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2002 Turing Award, “The internet is developing so quickly, along so many paths, that while we address current problems, we cannot even anticipate those which are emerging.”

Simply put: It’s a cat-and-mouse game that never ends.

Adleman’s take on the current state of cyber-security? “One view, and the one I prefer, is that we are in the midst of a revolution, and we are becoming more sophisticated in virtually every area of endeavor,” he explains. “But, we are also seeing the emergence of new endeavors at an astonishing rate. Often, these emerging endeavors bring new threats and attacks that were entirely unanticipated.”

The result is an emerging digital world that creates security challenges that many (most?) business and IT leaders simply aren’t equipped to handle. Unfortunately, these issues transcend industry and extend throughout the framework of society.

Another challenge is that the threat landscape still isn’t fully recognized. “There are emerging threats of great importance that are not receiving adequate attention,” Adleman points out.

His prediction? Adleman’s forthcoming book, Memes: How Genes, Brenes and Cenes Shape Your Life and Will Shape the Future of Humanity, offers up a somewhat dystopian view:

“We will soon see religions, nations, and economies rise and fall in cyber-space. These entities will be no less powerful and have no less impact on our lives than their current ‘brick and mortar’ counterparts. Political, economic, and even military power will be diffused; the physical locations of like-minded people will be less important than their numbers and connectivity.”

Adleman believes that society is already witnessing the early stages of this transformation. For example, “homegrown terrorists” are now allegiant to others in cyber-space rather than to their country or hometown.

In the not-too-distant future, he predicts the rise of digital weapons of mass destruction that will be designed specifically to take out critical internet and online infrastructures rather than traditional targets like factories or military installations. When used effectively, Adleman says, “The death toll could be colossal. A first world country with no computational infrastructure is a country with no economy, no food, no power and, ultimately, not a country at all.”

It’s time that we all begin to plan how we are going to protect infrastructure far more effectively. Today, it may be your brand. Tomorrow it may be everything.


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