The Global Cyberwar: The Alogrithms of Intelligent Malware

When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world . Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.1

Wired has an article by Kim Zetter An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon which elaborates on the now widely known collaboration between US and Israeli intelligence agencies seeking a way to infiltrate and slow down or destroy centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.

Needless to say they were successful, yet in their success they failed miserably. Why? As you read the quoted passage again you notice the code that was originally brought into the closed facility by way of memory sticks was released into the computers by way of flash drives. And after it was slowly unwound, installed and phased into it operative mode it began to work through the networks of the facility until by chance or accident it discovered itself outside the facility and on the internet. So that as James Barrat reminds us we “do not know the downstream implications of delivering this powerful technology into the hands of our enemies. How bad could it get? An attack on elements of the U.S. power grid, for starters.” (Barrat, 261-262)

The article by Zetter doesn’t mention this fatal flaw in the plan, and how the malware is now spreading across the globe and is available for even our enemies to use against us. As Barrat states it a former head of cyberdefense at DHS Sean McGurk was asked on a CBS 60 Minutes interview if he’d been asked would he have built such a malware application:

MCGURK: [Stuxnet’s creators] opened up the box. They demonstrated the capability. They showed the ability and the desire to do so. And it’s not something that can be put back.
KROFT: If somebody in the government had come to you and said, “Look, we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think?” What would you have told them? MCGURK: I would have strongly cautioned them against it because of the unintended consequences of releasing such a code.
KROFT: Meaning that other people could use it against you?
MCGURK: Yes.

(Barrat, 260)

The segment ends with German industrial control systems expert Ralph Langner. Langner “discovered” Stuxnet by taking it apart in his lab and testing its payload. He tells 60 Minutes that Stuxnet dramatically lowered the dollar cost of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electrical grid to about a million dollars. Elsewhere, Langner warned about the mass casualties that could result from unprotected control systems throughout America, in “important facilities like power, water, and chemical facilities that process poisonous gases.”

“What’s really worrying are the concepts that Stuxnet gives hackers,” said Langner. “Before, a Stuxnet-type attack could have been created by maybe five people. Now it’s more like five hundred who could do this. The skill set that’s out there right now, and the level required to make this kind of thing, has dropped considerably simply because you can copy so much from Stuxnet.”

(Barrat, 261-265)

 As one analyst put it Stuxnet is remarkably complex, but is hardly extraordinary. Some analysts have described it as a Frankenstein of existing cyber criminal tradecraft – bits and pieces of existing knowledge patched together to create a chimera. The analogy is apt and, just like the literary Frankenstein, the monster may come back to haunt its creators. The virus leaked out and infected computers in India, Indonesia, and even the U.S., a leak that occurred through an error in the code of a new variant of Stuxnet sent into the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. This error allowed the Stuxnet worm to spread into an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges, and when he left the facility and connected his computer to the Internet the worm did not realize that its environment had changed. Stuxnet began spreading and replicating itself around the world. The Americans blamed the Israelis, who admitted nothing, but whoever was at fault, the toothpaste was out of the tube.2

Deibert goes on to say the real significance of Stuxnet lies not in its complexity, or in the political intrigue involved (including the calculated leaks), but in the threshold that it crossed: major governments taking at least implicit credit for a cyber weapon that sabotaged a critical infrastructure facility through computer coding. No longer was it possible to counter the Kasperskys and Clarkeses of the world with the retort that their fears were simply “theoretical.” Stuxnet had demonstrated just what type of damage can be done with black code. (Deibert, KL 2728)

Such things are just the tip of the iceberg, too. The world of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwar is a thriving billion dollar industry that is flourishing as full time aspect of the global initiatives of almost every major player on the planet. As reported in the NY Times U.S. Blames China’s Military Directly for Cyberattack. The Obama administration explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”  While countries like Russian target their former satellites Suspicion Falls on Russia as ‘Snake’ Cyberattacks Target Ukraine’s Government: According to a report published by the British-based defense and security company BAE Systems, dozens of computer networks in Ukraine have been infected for years by a cyberespionage “tool kit” called Snake, which seems similar to a system that several years ago plagued the Pentagon, where it attacked classified systems.

Bloomberg summarized this concept this the following statement:

“The U.S. national security apparatus may be dominant in the physical world, but it’s far less prepared in the virtual one. The rules of cyberwarfare are still being written, and it may be that the deployment of attack code is an act of war as destructive as the disabling of any real infrastructure. And it’s an act of war that can be hard to trace: Almost four years after the initial NASDAQ intrusion, U.S. officials are still sorting out what happened. Although American military is an excellent deterrent, it doesn’t work if you don’t know whom to use it on.”

As Deibert warns we are wrapping ourselves in expanding layers of digital instructions, protocols, and authentication mechanisms, some of them open, scrutinized, and regulated, but many closed, amorphous, and poised for abuse, buried in the black arts of espionage, intelligence gathering, and cyber and military affairs. Is it only a matter of time before the whole system collapses? (Deibert, KL 2819)

At one time President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the growing Military-Industrial Complex in the era of the 50’s, now we have Deibert suggests an ever-growing cyber security industrial complex, a world where a rotating cast of characters moves in and out of national security agencies and the private sector companies that service them. (Deibert, KL 2927) For those in the defence and intelligence services industry this scenario represents an irresistibly attractive market opportunity. Some estimates value cyber-security military-industrial business at upwards of US $150 billion annually. (Deibert, KL 3022) The digital arms trade for products and services around “active defence” may end up causing serious instability and chaos. Frustrated by their inability to prevent constant penetrations of their networks through passive defensive measures, it is becoming increasingly legitimate for companies to take retaliatory measures. (ibid., 3079)

Malicious software that pries open and exposes insecure computing systems is developing at a rate beyond the capacities of cyber security agencies even to count, let alone mitigate. Data breaches of governments, private sector companies, NGOS, and others are now an almost daily occurrence, and systems that control critical infrastructure – electrical grids, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities – have been demonstrably compromised. (Deibert, KL 3490) The social forces leading us down the path of control and surveillance are formidable, even sometimes appear to be inevitable. But nothing is ever inevitable. (Deibert, KL 3532)


In Mind Factory Slavoj Zizek will ask the question: Are we entering the posthuman era? He will then go on to say that the survival of being-human by humans cannot depend on an ontic decision by humans.3

Instead he reminds us we should admit that the true catastrophe has already happened: we already experience ourselves as in principle manipulable, we need only freely renounce ourselves to fully deploy these potentials. But the crucial point is that, not only will our universe of meaning disappear with biogenetic planning, i.e. not only are the utopian descriptions of the digital paradise wrong, since they imply that meaning will persist; the opposite, negative, descriptions of the “meaningless” universe of technological self-manipulation is also the victim of a perspective fallacy , it also measures the future with inadequate present standards. That is to say, the future of technological self-manipulation only appears as “deprived of meaning” if measured by (or, rather, from within the horizon of) the traditional notion of what a meaningful universe is. Who knows what this “posthuman” universe will reveal itself to be “in itself”? (Mind Factory, KL 368-66)

What if there is no singular and simple answer, what if the contemporary trends (digitalisation, biogenetic self-manipulation) open themselves up to a multitude of possible symbolisations? What if the utopia— the pervert dream of the passage from hardware to software of a subjectivity freely floating between different embodiments— and the dystopia— the nightmare of humans voluntarily transforming themselves into programmed beings— are just the positive and the negative of the same ideological fantasy? What if it is only and precisely this technological prospect that fully confronts us with the most radical dimension of our finitude?(Mind Factory, KL 366-83)

With so many things going on in the sciences, military, governments, nations etc. where are the watchdogs that can discern the trends? Who can give answer to all the myriad elements that are making up this strange new posthuman era we all seem blindly moving toward? Or is it already here? With Malware on the loose, algorithms that manipulate, grow, improve on the loose around the globe; as well as being reprogramed by various unknown governments, criminal syndicates, hackers: what does the man/woman on the street do? As Nick Land will say of one of his alter ego’s

Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess.4


 

1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 261). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Deibert, Ronald J. (2013-05-14). Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Kindle Locations 2721-2728). McClelland & Stewart. Kindle Edition.
3. Armand, Louis; Zizek, Slavoj; Critchley, Simon; McCarthy, Tom; Wark, McKenzie; Ulmer, Gregory L.; Kroker, Arthur; Tofts, Darren; Lewty, Jane (2013-07-19). Mind Factory (Kindle Locations 367-368). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 9008). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Technocapitalism: Creativity, Governance, and Neo-Imperialism

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.

— Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Luis Suarez-Villa in his Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism informs us that the major feature that sets technocapitalism apart from previous eras is the vital need to commodify creativity.1 Why is this different from older forms of capitalism? The overarching importance of creativity as a commodity can be found readily in any of the activities that are typical of technocapitalism. Due to the rise of NBIC (Nanotech,Biotech,Information and Communications) technologies as in the area of biotechnology, such as genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, or biopharmaceuticals; in nanotechnology; in molecular computing and the other sectors that are symbolic of the twenty-first century, the commodification and reproduction of creativity are at the center of their commercialization. None of these activities could have formed, much less flourished, without the unremitting commodification of creativity that makes their existence possible.(Suarez-Villa, KL 365-67)

Nick Land in Fanged Noumena will offer us the latest version of a meltdown in which we all participate in a planet wide china-syndrome, the dissolution of the biosphere into the technosphere.2 Luciano Floridi will augment this notion in turn equating this transformation or metamorphosis into the technosphere as part of technocapital corporatism’s ‘Onlife’ strategy, one in which information becomes our surround, our environment, our reality.3 As Floridi will state it ICTs are re-ontologizing the very nature of the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that we will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned (Floridi, 6-7). He will expand on this topic, saying:

ICTs are as much re-ontologizing our world as they are creating new realities. The threshold between here (analogue, carbon-based, offline) and there (digital, silicon-based, online) is fast becoming blurred, but this is as much to the advantage of the latter as it is to the former. Adapting Horace’s famous phrase, ‘captive infosphere is conquering its victor’, the digital-online is spilling over into the analogue-offline and merging with it. This recent phenomenon is variously known as ‘Ubiquitous Computing ’,‘Ambient Intelligence’, ‘The Internet of Things’, or ‘Web-augmented Things’. I prefer to refer to it as the onlife experience.(Floridi, 8)

The notion of an Onlife experience is moving us toward that rubicon zone of the posthuman or becoming inhuman. The Onlife blurs the distinctions between reality and virtuality; blurring the boundaries of human, machine, and nature; reversing information scarcity to information abundance (and, some might say, ‘glut’); and, finally, a shift from substance based notions of entities to process and relations, or interactions.4 Floridi would have us believe that ICT’s are becoming a force of good, that they will break down the older modernist or Enlightenment notions of disembodied autonomous subjects, and will bine us within a democratic enclave of information and creativity.

Yet, as Suarez-Villa warns control over society at large, and not just governance, is the larger concern involving technocapitalism and corporate power. The globalist agenda is not to create democratic and participatory governance, but rather to impose new forms of control and power using advanced technological systems. Technology has always been a two-edged sword. The quest for corporate and global hegemony coupled with poor social accountability can have far-reaching effects. It would not be shocking to see genetic engineering bound into the human realm to produce individuals with characteristics that are highly desirable to corporatism. The “design” or “engineering” of humans with greater potential for creativity and innovation would be of great interest in this regard. After all, most people want their offspring to be “successful” and “well adjusted.” One can therefore expect corporatism to appeal to such sentiments that suit its need for power.(see Suarez, KL 1880-83)

Technocapital hegemony incorporates its most valuable resource, creativity , transcends boundaries and restraints. Commodifying creativity therefore acquires a global scope for the technocapitalist corporation, even though it is carried out within the corporate domain. Moreover, as it appropriates the results of creativity, the technocapitalist corporation becomes a powerful entity in the context of globalization. Its power takes up a supranational character that transcends the governance of any nation or locale. Corporate intellectual property regimes that are increasingly global in scope and enforcement magnify that power to an unprecedented extent. Thus, given the contemporary importance of technology, corporate technocapitalism is in a position to impose its influence around the world, particularly on societies with a limited possibility to create new technology. (Suarez, KL 2017-23)

This sense that technocapital corporatism is constructing a global hegemony outside the strictures of the older nation states, one that can bypass the regulatory mechanisms of any one sovereignty is at the heart of this new technological imperative. The technocorporatism of the 21st Century seeks to denationalize sovereignty, to eliminate the borders and barriers between rival factions. Instead of this ancient battle between China, Russia, EU, America, etc. they seek a strategy to circumvent nations altogether and build new relations of trust beyond the paranoia of national borders.

The globalists seek to appropriate the results of creativity on a global scale . Research is the corporate operation through which such appropriation typically occurs. Appropriating the results of creativity has therefore become a major vehicle to sustain and expand the global ambitions of corporate power. Intellectual property rights that confer monopoly power, such as patents, are now a very important concern of corporatism. The fact that corporate intellectual property has become a major component of international trade, and an important focus of litigation around the world, underlines the rising importance of creativity as a corporate resource. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2115)

Beyond corporate control and hegemony is the notion of reproduction, which is inherently social in nature. Reproduction is inherently social because of creativity’s intangibility, because of its qualitative character, and because it depends on social contexts and social relations to develop. Many aspects of reproduction are antithetical to the corporate commodification of creativity, yet they are essential if this intangible resource is to be regenerated and deployed. (Suarez-Villa, KL 2121)

Along with this new technocapitalist utopia comes the other side of the coin, the permanence of inequalities and injustices between the haves and the have-nots becomes one of the pathological outcomes of technocapitalism, of its apparatus of corporate power, and of its new vehicles of global domination. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4066) As Suarez-Villa iterates:

The new vehicles of domination are multi-dimensional. They comprise corporate, technological, scientific, military, organizational and cultural elements. All of these elements of domination are part of the conceptual construct of fast neo-imperialism— a new systemic form of domination under the control of the “have” nations at the vanguard of technocapitalism. This new neo-imperial power is closely associated with the phenomena of fast accumulation, with the new corporatism, with its need to appropriate and commodity creativity through research, and with its quest to obtain profit and power wherever and whenever it can. (KL 4068-72)

Corporatocracy’s slow transformation and disabling of the old Nation State powers involves a redistribution of power and wealth from the mass of the people, and most of all from the poor and working classes, toward the corporate elites and the richest segment of society. Redistribution is accompanied by a dispossession of the people from a wide spectrum of rights, individual, social, economic, political, environmental and ecologic , in order to benefit corporatism and increase its influence over society’s governance. This vast migration of wealth from poor of all nations, and the inequalities it engenders support the new corporatism’s urgent need for more creative talent, aggressive intellectual property rights, lower research costs, and for its appropriation of a wide range of bioresources, including the genetic codes of every living organism on earth. (Suarez-Villa, KL 4840-82)

As Suarez-Villa will sum it up we are now at the crossroads of what may be a new trajectory for humanity, given technocapitalism’s use and abuse technology and science , the overwhelming power of its corporations, its capacity to legitimize such power, and its quest to impose it on the world. The crises that we have witnessed in recent times may be a prelude to the maelstrom of crises and injustice that await us, if effective means are not enlisted to contest this new version of capitalism. (Suarez-Villa, KL 5555-60)

Is it too late? Have we waited way too long to wake up? Nick Land will opt for the harsh truth: “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future” (Land, KL 6063). James Barrat in his Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era will offer little comfort, telling us that most scientists, engineers, thinkers, funders, etc. within the construction of the emerging AGI to AI technologies are not concerned with humanity in their well-funded bid to build Artificial systems that can think a thousand times better than us. In fact they’ll use ordinary programming and black box tools like genetic algorithms and neural networks. Add to that the sheer complexity of cognitive architectures and you get an unknowability that will not be incidental but fundamental to AGI systems. Scientists will achieve intelligent, alien systems.5 These will be systems that are totally other, inhuman to the core, without values human or otherwise, gifted only with superintelligence. And, many of these scientists believe that this will come about by 2030.  As Barrat tells us:

Of the AI researchers I’ve spoken with whose stated goal is to achieve AGI, all are aware of the problem of runaway AI. But none, except Omohundro, have spent concerted time addressing it. Some have even gone so far as to say they don’t know why they don’t think about it when they know they should. But it’s easy to see why not. The technology is fascinating. The advances are real. The problems seem remote. The pursuit can be profitable, and may someday be wildly so. For the most part the researchers I’ve spoken with had deep personal revelations at a young age about what they wanted to spend their lives doing, and that was to build brains, robots, or intelligent computers. As leaders in their fields they are thrilled to now have the opportunity and the funds to pursue their dreams, and at some of the most respected universities and corporations in the world. Clearly there are a number of cognitive biases at work within their extra-large brains when they consider the risks.(Barrat, 234-235)

 And behind most of this is the need to weaponize AI and Robotics technologies. At least here in the States, DARPA is the great power and funder behind most of the stealth companies and other like Google, IBM, and others… Not to put too fine a point on it, but the “D” is for “Defense.” It’s not the least bit controversial to anticipate that when AGI comes about, it’ll be partly or wholly due to DARPA funding. The development of information technology owes a great debt to DARPA. But that doesn’t alter the fact that DARPA has authorized its contractors to weaponize AI in battlefield robots and autonomous drones. Of course DARPA will continue to fund AI’s weaponization all the way to AGI. Absolutely nothing stands in its way. (Barrat, 235)

So here we are at the transitional moment staring into the abyss of the future wondering what beasts lurk on the other side. As Barrat surmises “I believe we’ll first have horrendous accidents, and should count ourselves fortunate if we as a species survive them, chastened and reformed. Psychologically and commercially, the stage is set for a disaster. What can we do to prevent it?” (Barrat, 236)

Nothing.

Only the possibility of youth, or as Land tells us as we enter the derelicted warrens at the heart of darkness where feral youth cultures splice neo-rituals with innovated weapons, dangerous drugs, and scavenged infotech. As their skins migrate to machine interfacing they become mottled and reptilian. They kill each other for artificial body-parts, explore the outer reaches of meaningless sex, tinker with their DNA, and listen to LOUD electro-sonic mayhem untouched by human feeling. (Land, KL 6218-6222)

Welcome to the posthuman Real.

1. Luis Suarez-Villa. Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism (Kindle Locations 364-365). Kindle Edition. 
2. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 6049). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
3. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
4. Floridi, Luciano. The Onlife Manifesto. (see here)
5. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 230). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.