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Could gene editing solve the online privacy and security problem?

Facebook has been roasted lately due to its user privacy issues, not to mention its hosting of those infamous fake news feeds. No good deed goes unvarnished…

 

But I guess they’re not the only ones to have that problem: how about the Federal Office of Personnel Management where 4 million personnel records were stolen by hackers, including probably the names and identities of some of our US intelligence agents overseas? Sure, it wasn’t on the epic scale of the Cambridge Analytica hack, but the impact on US intelligence multiplies the severity one-thousand-fold. Seems to me that there’s plenty of blame to go around; Facebook gets hosed just because we are all super-envious of its success.

 

So now Facebook has got a new wheeze; to help address the problem they will put all your privacy settings in one place, so users know how to make themselves more private. Brilliant! I suppose that now the hackers will find it harder to find these settings? Maybe Facebook is adopting government solutions now, to be as effective as the OPM guys? I rather think that all the hackers are rubbing their hands together thinking about their next big party eating even more scrumptious Facebook user data.

 

So what will the brainiacs at Facebook do now? Give better health food to their employees at work to amp up the old brain cells? It’s kind of serious after all: it’s not just privacy; it’s also security. It’s not just our emotions; it’s our lives.

 

So far there’s no solution and very little progress by anyone, not just the beleaguered Facebook. Right now we are in what I call Privacy 1.0. Basically the era is a screw-up with everyone doing totally unconnected ad hoc things with nary a strategic thought in their AI-addled heads.

 

But we are now evolving to what I call Privacy 2.0. That’s where you involve the user and slough off some of the responsibility to them so the social media have deniable plausibility, again another piece of imaginative plagiarism from the government and politicians.

 

Privacy 2.0 will probably make things worse as we see with the single-page privacy settings approach. The reason is that there’s still no strategic plan for the future behind it all. Privacy 2.0 is actually a cover-up for the sins of Privacy 1.0. So it’s not going to go anywhere. Problem still unsolved.

 

But there could be a little light coming up over the horizon. It’s all that fancy quantum stuff. Quantum computers are very close and quantum cryptography is just about here. So if we can encrypt everything we’ve got a chance of making a big dent in the problem. If we can also read it ourselves….

 

Folks, don’t get too excited. Quantum cryptography is abstrusely and opaquely ultra-ultra technical in nature. So before this new area can take off you’ve got to do a whole lot of very boring, tiresome and cumbersome things so that it can be understood and used by mere mortals who don’t possess the requisite Nobel Prize in the mathematics of loop quantum gravity (here you are dumbass).

 

So this will take up a lot of resources and effort globally by reams of technical, highly-paid bureaucrats who live in places like New York,. Geneva, Paris and Rome. You know where that’s going right?

 

Developing incomprehensible technical frameworks covering hardware, software, communications and interoperability so you can (mis)use all this stuff globally. How about standards, every heard of those? All that’s going to take 5-10 years to put in place. So don’t hold your breath. But if it ever works I would be prepared to grace it with the moniker Privacy 3.0.

 

But there’s an elephant in the room; automacity. How do you automatically keep one or more steps ahead of hackers so that you don’t need to know when the hacker has got ahead of you, in order to make changes to your quantum encryption?

 

How can you ensure that your privacy and security system always manages to address and overcome threats without a human having to know what happened and without humans having to develop and implement another response?

 

How do you automatically stomp on these huge elephants without ever having to call in one of the family mahouts (ok here you are again)?

 

Even the hackers haven’t figured this out yet although I would bet on the North Koreans first coz they need to be able to steal cash from central banks to keep the nukes going, and they get killed if they fail so that’s a huge incentive for them to beat us capitalist pigs while we drink our very organic pom sodas. But as you can see, if we don’t do that (i.e. automacity) we will never solve the problem of never having real privacy and security and the North Koreans will; so in the end they’ll win, even if we manage to persuade them to give up their nukes (impossible of course).

 

So is there anything else on the horizon? Well I can’t see the social media having a real plan for it unless they’re keeping it very secret. I think at this stage of the game they and we have an urgent imperative to think differently, painful though that might well be.

 

Here’s my humble and radically inferior contribution. I think there’s going to be another game in town, if we do things right. It’s called Privacy 4.0.  Its main goal is that any threat to a user’s privacy and security will be handled by the system automatically without a human ever needing to get involved.

 

Impossible? Doesn’t that sound like what biological systems achieve, continuously, against all threats, even as we speak and even as you read this article? Every cell in our body does this millions of times each day. If they can do it, can’t we brainier humans do it too? But how could humans possibly create such a system in a short space of time instead of the millions of years it took nature?

 

That’s the miracle of new approaches to genetics and genetic engineering that have only just emerged. We can use these to develop our new systems for online protection!

 

Heard about (gulp) CRISPR-CAS9, the system inside bacteria to address viruses including pathogens? I don’t blame you if you haven’t (well, not much).

 

Here’s the Cliff Notes version. It essentially allows bacteria to deal with any threat from viral agents and pathogens, no matter where they come from and in what form. It has led to the discovery of molecular tools to edit genes, just like you might edit words when you are typing text, so that you can cut, copy, paste and edit genes precisely to do a huge number of things that were hitherto unimaginable. If you want to be brainier, taller, or nicer, here’s your chance (unless you can’t type of course).

 

In other words, Nature has given us a solution to killing those pesky electronic viruses and malware beloved by 12 year old boys everywhere. Now we have to use it to give us the solution we need for online privacy and security.

 

If you want to do this you’ve got to figure out a way of categorizing threats in a form that is analogous to that used by cells to kill viruses. Piece of cake. The genetic engineers have done most of the hard work already. Let them handle it, not the brain-dead software engineers so beloved by the social media and Google. But if we have to we could enlist the antivirus companies, the firewall flamethrowers, even (gasp) the social media, including even, even, Facebook!!

 

We already have vast databases of viruses and malware held by numerous types of organizations. These range from antivirus software companies, firewall developers, governments, private companies, social media companies and, last but certainly not least, hacker organizations themselves. If they won’t give us access we know exactly what to do right (joke!)?

 

Let the anti-hackers become genetic engineers and save the online world!

 

Maybe Facebook's super-profits could lend a helping hand?

 

 

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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

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