Cyberspace; It's a medium, not a place.
Much hay has been made over the use of the term “Cyberspace” since all this talk about cyberwar has been bandied about. I for one have also been one of the more vocal personages yelling online and off about the use of the term or more to the point its over-use and lack of real context. I consider it a bit of a pet peeve really but I started to think about it much more recently and think that it's time to put down some ideas that have been in my head about cyberspace.
Lately I have been focusing more on the cognitive, social, and psychological issues surrounding the human animal and the technological interface that we have created for communicating with one another. The Internet was born with the idea of sharing data and to connect systems (nuclear weapons primarily) during a time of war after regular infrastructure may be destroyed. It has morphed since then to encompass much more of our daily lives. Not only from the methods we use to pay our bills but also sociologically by the invention of social media.
Along the way we humans also created a mystique around this new technology that was futuristic and cool. The name that was coined for this ideal was put forth before the Internet was born by William Gibson in his book “Neuromancer” It was this presaging of the idea that not only would we someday in the future be able to communicate with people on a network of computers, but also that we would actually live on the “net” In Gibson's universe people “jacked” into the net and left their bodies behind for a digital domain with imagery that felt real and technologies that could kill your physical body while you were linked to cyberspace.
It was really from this coining of the term and it's cool factor that it began to catch on as we developed the technologies of the Internet and the means to interface with it more graphically. Hackers gravitated to the word as well as war fighters early on but it really did not not the modern lexicon until more recent times with the advent of APT (Advanced Persistent Threats) and Stuxnet where malware and espionage met and small conflicts were waged. Suddenly the sexiness of Cyber which really also more commonly was used with the term “sex” after it became the word of the day and once tagged with war became the de facto term for a new kind of warfare.
…. But, lets go back to this notion of “cyber” being a place. Is it in fact a place? Can one inhabit it? Or is it just a medium by which data is passed between systems and people to communicate? I would say that both of the latter are the reality and that clothing the medium in a sexy terminology leads to too many misapprehensions about the realities of what exactly is going on when one goes to war in it. As if anyone really can.
Sociology & Linguistics:
While the internet was originally conceived as a network to send data and communicate between systems it has become much more societally today to us all. It is the primary means of communication for people via phones, computers, and other types of interfaces. It is this fact, that moreover the social aspects of the internet and its important to society have become the primacy that we need to investigate it as a mirror to our natures. It is our nature that is effecting the direction of the technology from what we are doing on it as well as how we are doing it.
In the realm of the information security world I have been moving more and more away from the strict notions of defense and offense via technological means alone toward a more comprehensive understanding of the why and the how of the adversary's aegis instead of primarily looking at the vulnerabilities and the outcomes of their being used. This shift for me has widened the scope quite a bit and it became clear to me that by looking at the problem between the keyboard and the computer is a key to a better 360 degree process that we could use to manage our vulnerabilities more effectively. By studying these new sciences (Cyber-Psychology & Cyber-Sociology) I think that we can get a much better handle on creating a more secure environment to start as well as a more holistic means to information security on the whole.
Once again, the medium is just the means of communication though that does evolve the communication and lay the groundwork for social change. Mores, ideas, and language all effect the society broadly. In this case the medium of the internet or “cyberspace” as a modality is having real world consequences due to the hyper connected nature of it all today. Ponder the future connectivity as we move from Web 2.0 to 3.0 as well. How much more will the medium, which now can effect our daily lives in good as well as terrible ways directly enable us to further or destroy society up to the physical in the case of infrastructure (grid security etc.
The key point that I want to make in this first of perhaps a few blog posts on all of these ideas is that the human behind the keyboard is just as important if not more important than the keyboard and CPU they wield. It is also important to set forth that cyberspace is only a place in the cognitive dissonance that we are all deluding ourselves into believing. In reality cyberspace is in fact what is between our ears and the internet is a medium with which we fabricate a social contract to communicate with each other, transfer data with, and potentially wage war.
By understanding the tool user and their motivations you can understand the tool.