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Cyber-Security: How to Prevent ‘Digital Assassination’

Posted By David Brousell, May 10, 2012 at 7:30 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

When manufacturers think about cyber-security, they often, almost reflexively think about areas of the business such as control systems, enterprise applications, and intellectual property in general.

That's good because as more and more things get connected electronically, the risk of a virus, an attack, or a theft rises, too. Reports of such attacks on just about any type of business or organization surface almost daily. Lockheed Martin, the PBS news organization, Exxon, the International Monetary Fund, the Department of Defense -- you name it -- have all come under attack, as I have reported in these columns over the past couple of years.

In fact, the number of attacks is so huge at the federal government level alone that last July the DOD unveiled its Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace plan, which called for a partnership program with the private sector to enable what the DOD calls a "whole of government approach" to cyber-security.

But the growing issue of cyber-security doesn't just have to do with businesses, government, and other organizational entities. It is also very much about you -- your reputation, your identity, and maybe even your life.

This side of cyber-security is made clear and present in a new book called Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand, or Business Against Online Attacks, by Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis. In particular, it makes clear what's at stake for the individual.

Consider the case of John Seigenthaler, a former aide to Robert F. Kennedy. Several years ago, a Nashville man claimed in a Wikipedia entry that Seigenthaler was "directly involved" in the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy. The Wikipedia entry, Torrenzano and Davis say in their book, remained on Wikipedia for 132 days and was picked up "uncritically" by two "information automatons," Reference.com and Answers.com.

"For those 132 days, Seigenthaler's character was assassinated -- not the man himself, but his reputation, his avatar constructed of words spoken and written,” the authors say. “When such an assassination happens, however, more than a shadow self is murdered.”

More recently was the case of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after two fellow students used a Webcam to secretly stream on the Internet Clementi's sexual encounter with a man.

"Clementi's digital assassination," the authors say, "relied on a media that is instantaneous, vivid, works 7/24, has global reach, an eternal memory, and can organize crowds to attack individuals."

Digital Assassination does a good job of identifying what it calls the Seven Swords of Digital Assassination -- seven distinct forms or approaches that attackers use. They are:

  • New Media Mayhem: "Gossip Girls" who push aside traditional media and balanced reporting
  • Silent Slashers: Online damage to your business and reputation by unfelt "cuts"
  • Evil Clones: Confessions to something terrible using your name and image
  • Human Flesh Search Engine: Crowdsourcing that inspires instant digital lynch mobs
  • Jihad by Proxy: Moneyed interests that engage in "motive laundering" to launch deadly online attacks
  • Truth Remix: Spinning a bad fact into something far worse
  • Clandestine Combat: The ease with which competitors or enemies simply purloin your secrets

The authors offer ways to minimize, neutralize, and even defeat these seven threats using what they call the Seven Shields of Digital Assassination, but I'll let you find out what they are by reading the book.

I met up with Torrenzano recently in New York, where he was giving a talk to a group of journalists about the book. We talked about the problem of cyber-security in general, and Torrenzano's take was that the issue is really an age-old problem.

"The underlying problem is not the technology," he said. "What we are experiencing on the Web is not new. The problem is human malice."

He emphasized that people need to think about the issue of cyber-security a lot more and in different ways: "Age needs to approach technology with greater skill, while youth needs to approach technology with greater wisdom."

The book is published by St. Martin's Press of New York.

If the topic of cyber-security interests you -- and it should -- Manufacturing Executive is hosting two events on this topic:

  • The Manufacturing Leadership Council will be discussing it on a teleconference call on Tuesday, May 15, at 11 am ET.

  • “The Transformative Power of Enterprise Mobility: The Security Imperative,” on Tuesday, May 22, at 11 am ET. This Webinar is sponsored by AT&T.

See you in cyber-space. I'll be the guy with the shield.

Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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