Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brave Sir Julian is wanted dread or alive, by the evil forces

INTERPOL makes it official. Not for thought crime, not for espionage, but for his sexual indiscretions.

THEY are hot on your trail Knight of the Pallid Complexion and Multi-Hued Coif.

Brave Sir Julian's new theme song - thanks to Peter Tosh:

This is one of those "who do you root for?" moments

If the always reliable wiki-source that is the Daily Beast is correct in this blog post we have an impending cage death match between Vlad 'the Impaler' Putin and Julian 'the Pallid Knight' Assange.

Who wins. That's easy. To quote Dubya re Vlad: Cold blooded.

Who to root for? That's a tougher call. Assange is detestable. Vlad is, well,.. scary, and has a few nukes in his holster.

EMP is to carpet bombing as _________ is to laser guided missiles.

There is a reason the SAT and the GRE folks quit using analogies in their tests. No analogy is perfect, and the person creating one is open to critique for same. So, when you design 'one right answer' multiple choices around them, you'll always get some disgruntled test-taker belly-aching about unfairness and subtle test biases.

Granted all that, I've created the question at the head of this post fully recognizing the high danger in so doing, and here are your prospective answers, diligent and persevering would be subjects..er..test-takers:

a. a saboteur
b. the stuxnet virus
c. the wikileaks organization
d. disinformation
e. a 7/11 burrito or "truckstopper" sandwich

As you can probably tell, and as is usual on multiple choice tests, there is one freebie wrong answer. I have hopefully provided some good "distractors," as well. But, no doubt, this is a lame-oh attempt, not only at humor, but test question crafting. However, bear with me, and let me explain why exactly one answer is the best:

a. A saboteur is a conscious and intelligent agent, that can act both in the sort of broad manner that EMP and Carpet bombing "act", or can be used with pinpoint accuracy. Likewise, he is a bit like the guy in boots on the ground wielding the laser for the benefit of incoming guided missiles. He uses intelligence and sense data to find his target. Given this variability in a saboteur's precision, and given that the laser guided missile is on the narrow end of the precision spectrum, this answer (a) is a bit too inclusive to count as the best, but is nevertheless a brilliantly presented distractor.

b. The stuxnet virus is intentionally designed to disrupt or destroy functionality of the Islamic Republic of Iran's centrifuges. What is more, it has, as an essential feature of its functionality, a designed ability to recognize when it is in the appropriate environment. It can 'choose' to remain dormant as it passes through other environments or hosts on its way (hopefully) to its target host. Because of its coded narrow focus it cannot be used for a broad attack on elements of civilian and/or military infrastructure, as can EMP, but will only click into gear when it recognizes that it is resident in the computers that run Li'l Ahmie's physics experiment and nukie-doo-doo distillery. In that respect, even though there is no conscious being involved, it is an intelligent agent (in the AI sense that is). This has obvious analogs with the laser pointer wielding, boots on the ground guy, who would be able to recognize when he is in the vicinity of the building needing targeting. This clearly makes choice B the correct choice.

c. Wikileaks? Comon. Get serious. Clearly the worst of the choices. Assange Incorporated (r) is a clearly amateurish operation. It has a broad target, the Great Satan, but agents wear Birkenstock instead of combat boots, have a complete incapacity to discriminate carpet bombing from any other exercise of U.S. military firepower (particularly in regard to Apache gunships) and a similar incapacity to discriminate weapon wielding enemy combatants from poor innocent stringers from shady press organizations. Also, the organization as a whole has a remarkable incapacity to exercise discrimination in excising information from released documents that may prove harmful to non-combatants. Also a remarkable incapacity to discern the difference between Nazi era Germany and the United States. Also, an unhealthy reliance on pasty-faced, pallid complected, trendily attired neo-hipsters with vaguely defined messianic complexes. Aside from Bradley Manning, the U.S. military is bereft of such persons. This is clearly the freebie wrong answer to the analogy question. An impossible answer if you have a modicum of analogical prowess.

d. Disinformation is generally ineffective and more broadly targeted. Also, not clearly targeted at infrastructural elements. Does aim to disrupt though, and sometimes succeeds, unlike choice (c). This makes choice (d) perhaps the least attractive of the possible answers.

e. Both of these food items can have marked and rapid effects of a deleterious nature, which can also disrupt the functionality of infrastructural elements (plumbing facilities) while exhibiting marked odoriferous side effects, not unlike bombs of both high and low precision. What is more, these two food items have been ( 7/11 Corp. protestations to the contrary) designed with the express purpose of causing intestinal distress. Clearly this is one of the more plausible distractors, a bit better than (d) but also clearly, not the best choice.

Exit observations: Stuxnet is a very interesting weapon is it not? In terms of some of the desired characteristics of weaponry, it, and other worms, bots, viri, cyberweapons, or whatever you would like to call these bits of computer code, offer tantalizing possibilities. The purpose of weaponry is to either kill enemy combatants or destroy enemy infrastructure. What is more, jus in bello moral constraints on use of military force dictate that weaponry used be as discriminating as is possible given the nature of the intended tactical goal, while also being proportional vis harms inflicted as compared to import of the mission or outcome. If you can destroy the fighting will of the enemy with minimal killing (collateral and otherwise) and/or property damage (collateral or otherwise), you should do so. Your means should not outstrip either the harms you are responding to, or the harms you are preventing. Othewise the jus-in-bello strictures are violated.

The evolution of smart weaponry has allowed these two imperatives to be actively and successfully followed in ways undreamed of mere decades ago, and they have moved us beyond the necessity of having to employ imprecise methods such as carpet bombing, which run greater risk of running afoul of these two strictures. For belligerents concerned with these moral constraints, smart weapons are a godsend.

But, smart bombs are still bombs after all, and still kill non-combatants, and damage or destroy buildings in the process of removing contained threats.

In terms of jus in bello, the stuxnet worm is a step better than the precision low yield conventional guided weapon. It either cannot, or is considerably less likely to, generate collateral death, destruction or damage. I say "cannot" because it was specifically designed with what one might call "Panda" functionality. Like the Panda, it cannot do its business unless it is in the right place. Panda must eat eucalyptus to survive. Stuxnet must be resident in the computer system at Li'l Ahmies Science Fair or it will not turn on. So it cannot damage any other target. This is true even if there is a chance that stuxnet, doing its business might cause property damage or loss of life. However, as compared to conventional weaponry, that likelihood is considerably diminished.

In the case of Li'l Ahmie's Nukie doo-doo plant, and only in that case would it, could it, be able to disrupt functioning of the spinning gizmos, effectively tainting the product, and/or slowing down the process or uranium enrichment. It did this by instructing the hardware to spin at too high a rate, and then drastically slowing that hardware, damaging the spinning bits. What is more, it took a while for personnel to figure out what was going on. By that time, the damage was done, and according to stories on the subject, it will take a year or more for the Iranians to clean out the system.

All this was successfully carried out, despite the fact that the Iranians had taken pains to insulate the computer system running the nukie-doo-doo facility from linkage to the web. The virus was designed to be delivered via the web to the vicinity, innocuously, so that some unsuspecting Jimmy Neutron would carry it into the facility on his trusty thumb drive after having surfed the web. Once he/she inserted the portable drive into the computer (running Windows 7) in the plant, and downloaded his Lady Gaga evil Western Imperialist music files the worm was in its intended environment, able to recognize that fact, communicate with the hardware, and bam, mission accomplished without any damage to the building, and no causalities.

Unlike EMP, which also targets infrastructure, but indiscriminately and stupidly, stuxnet could only operate in one environment, on exactly one infrastructural target. So there was no danger of discriminatory malfeasance, as there might have been with something like EMP, (non kinetic but targeted only at infrastructure, but of wide effect), or as there might have been with a conventional bombing raid or cruise missile attack, (kinetic, and necessarily threatening of life and adjacent properties).

While a terrorist group or a morally unconcerned regime could design a cyber weapon that could inflict large scale damage to infrastructure, (and this is something we should worry about, given that great swathes of our infrastructure are reliant on computer control) a moral regime could take pains to deliver these cyber weapons to command and control centers, disabling ability to communicate and otherwise react, without having to take out a city's power station in order to do so. Effects could be tailored if previous intelligence gathering were thorough enough.

Assuming a U.S. and/or western origin of stuxnet, one can safely infer that it the attack on Li'l Ahmie's Science experiment is intended to be a shot across the bow not only of the Iranian ship of state, but a not so subtle signal to the North Koreans as well. And lest we forget, the Chinese, prone themselves to use of cyber weapons, are probably taking heed.

Cool Weather pic o' the day: Supercell in Montana

Dubya makes the rounds - Round 5, Spaceface..er..Myface..er..Facebook

Dubya is so hip to the web that he could have designed and delivered the stuxnet worm in his sleep. Enjoy:

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