Tag Archives: lensman

Perfect security is beyond the realm of science fiction

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The cracks keep getting bigger.

Around this time last year, we were worried about credit and debit card details being stolen from Target stores. Bad, but not bad enough it would seem to drive retailers into doing a thorough security overhaul. The past year has seen similar breaches at Home Depot — even bigger than Target — Staples and Bebe, to name just 3.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the worst of it? But no such luck. The past couple of weeks has brought what looks like the launch of a cyberwar between the the U.S. and North Korea over the mega-crack at Sony — most properly denied by both sides, of course — as well as a damaging shutdown at a German steel mill and the release of sensitive documents and the threat of more damage at a South Korean nuclear power plant.

Last year the problem seemed to be a skin flint reliance on 1970s magnetic stripe technology (which, by the way, still plagues us). This year the problems have multiplied, but the common factor is people, not gadgets. Subversion or defection by insiders appears to have played a role. So have spear phishing attacks aimed at critical, but credulous and careless personnel.

Doc Smith’s solution — a telepathic wristband crafted by the galaxy’s sublimest intellects — is getting closer to reality: we have the wrist bands and the smartest minds in the known galaxy (admittedly, a small sample). Unfortunately, even he had to limit distribution to the infinitesimal few who were provably incorruptible. The rest of us will have to accept the necessary inconvenience of ever more bloody minded security measures and the personal responsibility that goes along with it.

In the Lensman universe of the future, the bad guys are never defeated. They’re just pushed further out beyond the galactic firewall. Then and now, the battle is eternal.

Cyber security needs a breath of fresh thinking from pulp fiction

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Don’t take a space axe to a Q-beam fight.

“The bad guys are very good”, said Dan Schulman, a group president with American Express, as he talked about the biggest problem he faces in maintaining security for a global credit card company. He was speaking at the MobileCon tradeshow in San Jose earlier this year, but his words could have been lifted from the pages of vintage science fiction.

Edward E. Smith – Doc Smith – started writing what would become the Lensman series of novels in 1934. The dashing tales of outer space adventure centered on a galactic corps of patrolmen who fearlessly battled forces of evil beyond human imagination. Not unlike the continuous cyber war waged against the foundations of our electronic economy here on Tellus, um, Earth.

Similarly, the central problem for Smith’s Galactic Patrol was foolproof authentication…

We need something which will identify any representative of Civilization, positively and unmistakably, wherever he may be. It must be impossible of duplication, or even of imitation, to which end it must kill any unauthorized entity who attempts imposture. It must operate as a telepath between its owner and any other living intelligence, of however high or low degree, so that mental communication, so much clearer and faster than physical, will be possible without the laborious learning of language.

Needless to say, they didn’t rely on a small piece of plastic with a 1970s vintage magnetic strip. Their solution, provided by the most sublimely intelligent race in the galaxy, was the Lens, a telepathic wristband mated to the mind of its wearer. In the wake of the Target mega-crack, credit card companies, banks and retailers need to start thinking like a pulp writer from the 1930s.