Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral

Melvin Kranzberg was a renowned history professor who lived his student years in the Second World War. Knowing the influence of technology over society and witnessing that all innovations were negatively perceived by people who saw how they were used to create more and more destructive weapons, he defended technology saying "Technology is neither good nor bad, nor neutral."


"It is how you use it what declines the balance towards either side," others add as tagline. There are plenty of examples of good and bad uses of technology in history.

In information security, there are both kind of cases too. For instance, telephone communications (calls, texts) are usually considered relatively secure (when compared with purely digital communications). But this does not mean that someone is able to find a vulnerability in its protocol suite called Signal System 7 or SS7, which could allow an attacker eavesdropping, redirecting or recording calls.

"Laws are made to be broken," say some people. In fact, according with some documents leaked by Wikileaks, these words seems to place CIA’s way of thinking. On just 14 pages, it is comprehensively explained the strategies that it uses to bypass security controls at American and European airports posing as law enforcement or diplomats, and even carrying knives or explosives.

Information technology allows us to be in touch with anyone anywhere regardless of our geographical position. Nevertheless, managed by wrong hands it can produce dangerous tools such as Win32/VirLock, which is a ransomware that locks a device encrypting its files, able to self-reproduce in the executable files present on the system. It is one of the more sophisticated malware of this type known to date indeed.

Social networking and search engines have also facilitated and democratized communications. But again, in the wrong hands they can become a perfect weapon to obtain sensitive information from anyone: Name, ID, study background, address, friends and family, age, fines or past judgments... and ultimately everything what comes to mind, in just one click.

Mobile world has surpassed desktop market share, so both the good and bad boys want to be present in it. Appsgeyser is a tool to easily create Android apps encapsulating a browser within the application, which is known as webview.  However this can be used to develop apps that bypass common security certificates since this WebView does not display such notices.

Melvin was concerned about the society's skepticism towards technology. And maybe that same skepticism could be used to public defence and pressure against cyber-wars like the ones we experienced this year. Russia, USA and China are the major fronts of a war that does not discriminate between targets and users, between critical infrastructure and private servers.

Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral. It is just a tool created by men, and therefore susceptible to the designs of human being.

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