THE MAGAZINE

Looking Ahead: Technology and Threats

By Matthew Harwood

Is the future a place of rapidly degrading trust where nothing is as it seems?

We are already there. People choose to believe all types of digital information that is in no way authenticated. Individuals are using cyberspace and technology to create fake personas and fake realities all the time. There have been many cases wherein bad actors take a photo of a pretty girl and create a profile around it on a social networking service such as LinkedIn and before you know it, you have 100 guys from Army intelligence that are “her” friends, sharing sensitive information because they think they’re talking to an actual woman whom they are trying to impress.

Couldn’t this undermine the public’s faith in the justice system? And what cop is going to believe someone when they tell them they’ve been set up digitally?

Exactly. That’s what happened with these initial SWATing cases. The police couldn’t believe that the victims didn’t call the police. Police would say, “Caller ID says call placed from here…therefore it had to originate here. Maybe it was your son?”
But this cuts both ways. Today, the standard pedophile defense is “I got infected by a virus.” Then the defense attorney brings in all these experts who say “When you get infected with a virus, your computer does all these things.” So the pedophile says my computer may have visited these child pornography sites due to a virus, but I never did.

How will these perpetual revolutions in technology affect the future of terrorism?

I can think of numerous scenarios wherein terrorists could exploit robotics, critical infrastructures, or even synthetic biology and genomics to disastrous effect. Of course, doubters always say “They would never do that.” Or, “Those people live in caves, what do they know about technology?” Let me remind you, “those people” have hacked into UAVs flying over Iraq and downloaded the live video feeds of predator drones that were meant for the exclusive use of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Fifteen years ago Aum Shinrikyo was building chemical weapons that they successfully deployed against the innocent commuters on the Tokyo subway system. It is a classic and too often repeated mistake that we underestimate the terrorist opponent.

How can law enforcement and security professionals anticipate technology’s impact on crime?

In the current budget environment we face, it’s extremely difficult. To be creative requires time to think. Most police officers are running from call to call and information security officials are struggling to keep up with the thousands of software patches. Who’s got time to be creative and conduct R&D?

Some have argued that one of the major reasons 9-11 occurred is that the bad guys were simply more creative than the good guys. It is for that reason that I founded the Future Crimes Institute.

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