Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Security and Rationality

I was reading this post a little while ago and it got me thinking about security as a general concept. You see, at least twice this summer I have been locked out of an apartment I was staying at. First was my parent's place in the suburbs (low crime) and second was my brother's in the city (moderate crime). Both situations were caused by a simple lapse in attention and both were equally solved by a simple application of attention and rational thought. Said application took the form of a plastic credit card. The ability to 'card into' a locked door was one I picked up during my first freshman year in college when being locked out of one's dorm was not only embarrassing and a hassle, but would cost $35 the first time and escalate from there. The skill took all of 5 minutes to learn and changed the way I thought about our society's illusionary grasp of security and safety.

I say illusory because we don't really think about how secure our homes or offices really are. We lock our doors at night in good faith that a few cm of steel inside a wooden frame will protect us and our stuff from anyone who might try to harm either. However when we are locked out we call a locksmith who comes to our homes and bypasses that piece of steel in a matter of minutes. Many of us don't make the connection that the lock is simply a psychological and time deterrent. Because the simple fact is that no matter how good the lock or how secure the code, someone with sufficient skills and time will be able to break it.

Similar thoughts occur to me on airplanes (which is why I don't like to fly much). That no matter how secure the pilot's door is, someone with sufficient motive and planning has no need to even see the pilots to decide the plane's course. One simply starts killing passengers and flight crew while leaving the intercom open. "mr pilot, i have 75 bullets, you have 33 passengers. lets go to cuba. ok now 74 and 32. 73 and 31. i can go all day, its pretty hard to miss in here." Eventually the pilot will submit rather than feel responsible for the deaths of his entire manifest.

But I'm straying. The point is that if someone has sufficient motivation, time and skills, they can get through just about any defense you might erect - be it physical or digital. Now how this applies to Blizzard trying to create a social network and farm free marketing data can be pretty easily guessed at by anyone familiar with any online discussion anywhere. The idea that people can actually find you and that there are repercussions to what one says and does on the internet is a generally foreign concept to most online denizens, but foreign as it may be it can and has happened. The issue seems to be that Blizzard has simply made the trick of finding a face to fit the online avatar all that much easier.

Of course my initial reaction to the news was the same as most people. A mix between 'wow, good thing I don't use those forums' and 'well shit, this is going to end well'. However I have since realized that I was falling for my own BS. Just like when I lock my door at night, I was assuming before this all happened that my Identity was separate from my avatar on a game that I PAY FOR WITH A CREDIT CARD. In fact the majority of people who play any Blizzard game pay for it with a credit card that has not only their real identity linked to it, but their home address! To think that 'flamers' and 'trolls' have not had possible access to your ID before now is to ignore the locksmith next door. To worry that they have easier access to your ID now is to miss the point. The internet is not a nice place, nor is the world. If you are flamed you can either flame back or turn the other cheek. One escalates into things like this, the other ends the argument.

I hate to again be playing devil's advocate but fretting over blizzard's latest marketing ploy and trying to reverse it will not make you more safe or more anonymous. There is no such thing as an anonymous individual in our society and there has not been for decades. No matter how 'off the grid' you live or how many smurf accounts you use behind however many proxies you can still be found. The greatest hacker that ever lived was arrested, and so was Ted Kaczynski.

If you are obnoxious enough online, someone will take the time to find you in real life. your identity is not secure, neither is your house, nor your plane. So just take the risk and act like an adult. Chances are no one will do anything terrible to you, and if they do they were going to regardless of your precautions, it would just take them longer and they'd be more pissed at you by the time they got to you.

And i'm not even going to touch the fact that a social network based on a game that has built-in hatred and rivalry at its CORE is just about the worst idea since someone hired a Motown band to preform at the Clan's annual national rally.

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