Tuesday, February 25, 2003

This BBC news article isn't from today, but I think there is still something worth saying about it.

The FBI has warned American hackers not to launch cyber attacks against Washington's foes.

From a conventional viewpoint, this is the correct thing to do. The government no more wants a group of unpredictable hackers doing things they don't expect when they don't expect them then it wants men who are not part of the military going to Iraq on their own in order to shoot some Iraqi's and getting in their way.

Yet I know another decentralized organization that sometimes seems to work similarly - Al Qaeda. I don't know what the government is doing, so I'll take their word that the dangers of interference are substantial. I can't help wondering if there was any direction the hackers could have been steered in, short of blanket exclusion, so that the potential benefits would have outweighed the potential harm. Imagine an emergent hacker brain, with individual hackers testing out new ideas, copying successful ideas from other hackers, and continually trying out new combinations. An unpaid army, with perhaps an occasional discreet and ambiguous congradulation from our government. A deniable army, just as Osama admits to being pleased by terrorism but claims he cannot be held responsible because he didn't know about or plan it.

Not that it would be easy, but if we are in the most serious war since WWII we may have to change a few tried and true ways of doing things. Very carefully - some of the people involved are serious vandals or even professional criminals. Think of it as a last ditch force of privateers, only not necessarily quite as nasty as the seagoing privateers who were often merely pirates who preyed mostly on enemy ships.

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