Monday, December 19, 2011

If I were a despot: Part 1 - Controlling the Internet

Why do despotic governments make such a big deal about internet firewalls and trying to clamp down on "insidious foreign websites" like Facebook and Youtube. It seems to me that such loudly proclaimed efforts are as amateurish as those of the most inept Bond villain.

Can these would be megalomaniacs not see that the internet is the greatest surveillance tool ever invented? No longer do we have to pay an army of informers to eavesdrop on the conversations of their friends and families. Gone is the need for midnight secret police raids on subversives meeting in abandoned warehouses. Instead of such outdated techniques monitoring the communications of your citizens over the tubes of the internet will provide vastly more information.

Rather than banning Youtube, Facebook or any other seditious website invest in warehouses full of hard disks and record all of the online activities of your populace. The more seditious the website the more useful will be the information it gathers for you. 

Amateur security experts may fool themselves that encryption and anonymising services will keep them safe. Happily for the would be despot no security system is safe from a well organised man in the middle attack and it should be relatively simple to ensure that you are the quintessential man in the middle.  The usual techniques of bribery, coercion, threats to family members and such will quickly ensure that not a single byte travels over your national internet that doesn't also go through your own monitoring system. Do not advertise this fact. Let it be done with the lightest of touches. Should one of your citizens wish to use encryption or anonymising services then let them. Well, rather, let them use the carefully altered versions that you, as man in the middle, have substituted in their place. The more accomplished phishing organisations have developed such practices to a fine art so it should be relatively trivial when you have the resources of a nation behind you.

Indeed the biggest problem you are likely to face is the extreme surfeit of information that is going to be collected. You will have ready access to the most private communications both innocent and subversive of your citizens. Happily several large organisations have refined the science of mining useful information from a vast sea of data to a high degree. I am sure that their techniques can be copied or more likely bought.

Needless to say you are going to have to change your recruitment policies. Candidates with a creative flair for information processing and degrees in computer science are likely to be of more use to future  leaders than those with an ability to painfully extract fingernails. It would be no harm either if recruits had siblings, spouses and other family members to whom they felt a protective attachment. Might be a good idea to keep a few of the fingernail pullers on hand too. Just in case.

Anyway I am not a despot nor do I want to be one so I can only be grateful that no real world government has figured out the incredible surveillance potential of the internet because done well such practices would be extremely powerful and very hard to detect. Oh, wait ....


Cap'n John said...

The best way to hide something is in plain sight, ergo, Facebook is not what it appears and Mark Zuckerberg is actually working for the C.I.A., if not the Illuminati, New World Order, etc. Naturally ideas like these are quickly written off by the general population as simple paranoia, because there's no way they could be true...could they? Naaaah. But...what if? Naaaah.

mbp said...

The best cure for paranoia that I know is to remind ourselves regularly that our great and mysterious leaders are just as incompetent as we are and most of them couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery never mind a global conspiracy.

Hanlon's razor applies.

Cap'n John said...

I disagree (as any good paranoid delusional should ;) and propose that while the world may be full of bumbling idiots, there are also numerous, gifted geniuses out there, and not all of them may be content with quietly advancing society into a peaceful new era; some may wish to do it with a bang...or a Ka-Boom!!! Bwah hah ha!!!

Then again, the evil mastermind cannot accomplish all of this on his/her own, he will have to hire at least one assistant. Given the average IQ and level of competency of the average human he's more likely than not to hire a Baldrick, and I don't mean the Season 1 version, and if TV has taught us one thing it is that no act of genius cannot be undone by an incompetent, bumbling idiot.

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