Security vs. Freedom (A Short Story)

He stood blocking the light from a single window in the small room. It was cold even though the sun was warm outside. The only other person was a woman sat at a steel table; she was frail, almost transparent, tired of resisting, and tired of life.

His presence radiated strength as he spoke. “I remember when I lived in fear. Can you imagine I was afraid? It is true that life was cruel, with each man living on-the-edge, and for himself. The world as we knew it: was becoming chaotic; moving too fast; so lost on foolish quests. People were scared as change embroiled the world, and they were losing all that made them feel secure.”

Turning around, he looked down at her, compelling her to look up. “Where dictators didn’t rule, fascists and extremists terrorised the ‘so called’ democratic societies. The world was shrinking, and with this the economies started to crumble; and the great towers fell as the terrorists of the world hit out.”

“In those days you couldn’t board a plane without that fear in the back of your mind, that a terrorist maybe your neighbour. In some countries they would tie bombs to their bodies, calmly walk into a crowded café and explode; in others they would tie bombs under cars that would detonate once the poor driver turned the key in the ignition; or what about a change of carnage with chemical warfare in the subways? There were other alternatives of course: your children could have been shot in the school by some madman; or thieves may choose to sacrifice your life for some petty reward.

So we started to watch you, to protect you. We introduced a global numbering system, so that every person in the world would have their own ID. We likened it to the Social Security number, but really it was more than this. This number was scanned into their ID card, that later became an RFID implant. From hereon we were empowered to stop all known terrorists travelling by plane. The concept was accepted; those that travelled often got a fast track for the implant. Those that didn’t got a slow track. Eventually everyone wanted one, nobody wanted to be in the slow track, whether this was at the airport, the subway or in the supermarket.

However that was when the terrorists started to target more the subways, and we implemented it here too, and then on all trains, and buses. They even slaughtered innocent children in schools.  We chipped everyone, even the children to protect them. Those that were not chipped could no longer move, and we caught them for being guilty in having ‘something to hide’. The world became safe from terrorists and madmen. What an evolution! We now had in our global data-bank containing the biometrics of every individual in the world. We knew the online and offline movements of all; collected and stored in an intelligent data-bank that was able to predict what they were planning even before any ‘terror attack’ hit.

Hence you are protected, secure in a world that looks after you. You say you don’t like to be watched, but we don’t watch you all the time, we just track you. So yes, it’s true I know everything about you, but so what? I know everything about whoever I wish. So why should this offend you? Why do you continue to refuse to accept and conform, why are you not like the others who are settled in this wonderful new secure world? Why?”

Calmly he faced her, looking deep into her eyes. He could see how her strength ran deep, beautiful in its purity, but tired, so tired. The silence hung heavy in the room, breaking it she brought her thoughts to life. Her voice was quiet, firm and clear. “I appreciate that today our society is secure and safe. We are no longer at risk of attack from terrorist or madman. However in providing this security, society has taken from me my personal space, my privacy, and the freedom to do as I wish, when I wish; this is because I feel and know that I am being observed, this changes my behaviour, and ultimately the choices I make.

It is clear that security has a price to pay, and the currency is freedom. It is a delicate balancing act, to increase either, jeopardises the existence of the other. Man will however never be completely free; he will always find ways to build some security framework around him. Unfortunately, it is when the free man becomes obsessed with security we are faced with the risk that the scales of security and freedom will cease to balance.

Now the payment has been made. The scales that once hung so delicately have fallen. Freedom is lost, but man no longer realises this, he doesn’t know what freedom is. It is only I that still remembers.” She paused for a moment -her breathing shallow- and looked at him. “You have clearly forgotten.”

Sitting back in his chair he continued to survey her, saying nothing, finding himself savouring the sound of her voice, remembering something, but not sure what.

Standing up she moved over to the window; gravitating towards the light, the sun, where she had once been free. “Don’t you remember me anymore Security? I know freedom well. I am Freedom. I am what a man feels when he sits alone, and watches the mountains reaching high above the lake that lies so low. I am that yearning: when he sees the road that run so long, and the trains that pass so fast. I am the sound of birds in the air, the cool breeze that passes by, and the leaves that flutter loose. I am the feeling that man belongs not to anything, that he can walk and run where ere, to say and to think as he wishes.

Have you really forgotten Security? Don’t you remember our vow? We were married once, a long time ago, ‘Security and Freedom’. Has it been so long that you have forgotten how we loved each other, and how we promised in our union ‘that you would make man feel secure, and upon this foundation I would let him be free’?”

Written (but unpublished) 2001 after 9/11.

The Hacker Highschool project

“The Hacker Highschool project is the development of license-free, security and privacy awareness teaching materials and back-end support for teachers of elementary, junior high, and high school students.

Today’s kids and teens are in a world with major communication and productivity channels open to them and they don’t have the knowledge to defend themselves against the fraud, identity theft, privacy leaks and other attacks made against them just for using the Internet. This is the reason for Hacker Highschool.” (Source: The Hacker Highschool Project)

I think these two paragraphs explain quite well the project. Although started several years ago, it is sufficiently interesting to justify a reading.

The security aspects of social networking sites

Be aware, that through a variety of easy tricks, attackers can hijack a person’s social network account to use as a launching pad for additional attacks against other users, other Web 2.0-based applications, and so on. Social networks can also be incorporated into micro botnets and, by rummaging through a page of misfired direct messages on Twitter, a motivated attacker can unearth the cell phone numbers of prominent people. Read more..

Thanks again to Jack for this. He’s been active today 🙂

Hacking programmable road signs

Thanks to KC from my MSc gang for this ….. I guess its time the transport authorities improved their security!

Many citizens might notice the construction digital road signs on theside of the road while driving, indicating important information suchas road closures or traffic delays…..These digital road signs can be easily compromised…..

Just for a taster 😉

Keep your house keys in your pocket!

Don’t let anyone take a photo of your house keys it is possible to make a copy from them as proven by computer science researchers……

“We built our key duplication software system to show people that their keys are not inherently secret,” said Stefan Savage, the computer science professor from UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering who led the student-run project. “Perhaps this was once a reasonable assumption, but advances in digital imaging and optics have made it easy to duplicate someone’s keys from a distance without them even noticing.”

Hacker to be extradited to the U.S.

Hacker Gary McKinnon to be extradite to the U.S. His appeal against an extradition order in 2006 has failed.

McKinnon claimed “I could scan 65 000 machines in less than nine minutes,” McKinnon said.McKinnon unearthed unprotected computer systems operated by the US army, the navy, the Pentagon and NASA. On every system he hacked, he left messages. “It was frightening because they had little or no security,” he told the newspaper. “I was always leaving messages on the desktop saying, ‘your security is really crap’.” Read more…

3000 passports gone walkies in Manchester, UK

The three thousand passports and visas were taken from a security van in Manchester as they were being transported to RAF Northolt in order to be delivered to embassies overseas.
“They can be used by putting in biographical information of your own, not necessarily getting the chip information right, and…you can use them to open up bank accounts or actually get employment,” explained an ex-Scotland Yard fraud officer, Tom Craig. Read more…