We all know about cryptocurrencies, we don’t usually understand what they are, but the name Bitcoin rings a bell for anyone intersted in economics or finance. Bitcoin is one of the many hundreds of different virtual, cryptography based currencies now circulating and exsiting through the internet. One of their characteristics is that without internet they can not exist.
Cryptography, or the art of hiding information in a cloud of noise, is a growing industry. It is becoming a more important aspect of computing and internet as we desire to trust these systems more. Not only do we change text into unreadable and unreconstructable jibberish, we protect text that anyone can read from being changed by a third party by sending along a thumbprint of it, using an encryption algorithm. This is called signing, and if you check your own computer you can find many certificates that are used by applications on your PC to make sure information that is transmitted over the internet is not being tampered with.
The financial system is quickly learning that it can rely on transactions only if they are send with cryptographic security measures in place. Communication by medical devices, some operations critical control signals in factories, networks in airplanes, even engine part maintenance documentation, all these kinds of data are seen as threatened and requiring security. The growing frequency of larg scale hacking events with millions of credit card details drive a perception the internet is a wild place, and there’s truth in that. The trouble with internet is that signals traveling through them leave almost no trace. They have barely any physicality or presistence. That is why NSA has all these datacenters, to create a visible history of events, messages, visited locations etc. to possibly string together as evidence in the future.
In reality all these security systems boil down to a single principle : It is highly unlikely a criminal can be in several places at once. Take message encryption. The criminal is not supposed to be able to read your screen, he’s not supposed to be able to read your encryption key pair. Then as the message is send and verified by the reciever he is not supposed to be able to fake the certificate authority that the reciever uses to verify you send the message. It is about places a maliscious person can and can’t be. The ultimate security of any cryptosecurity system is thick concrete walls and distance. There is no other security really.
This type of security works with most possible threats, but of course in the small world of cryptography theats evolve. What about a network of actors to envelope people that know about cryptographic systems. Imagination can run wild. The flip side of this thinking is : What if there is water tight digital security, then what? It is clear that the US does not like citizen or ordinary people to have any kind of truely hard to crack cryptography. All standards are US dictated and have unknown real security! Really. In the cryptographic manuals it is advised to use US dictated hashing and encryption standards. But nobody knows how secure they are. True encryption is a real threat to everyone, including the ‘state’.
In this world transparency is already under threat. It is non-existent in the banking system. It is weakened by media that distract us and tell us outright lies or make us doubt. How about econoic entities that suddenly communicate in encrypted ways, disabling any ability to read the messages. We are already hindered by the complexity of for instance the banking system from fully understanding what goes on there. Now we would be faced with encrypted communications of which the key could be lost, renderinging information unreadable, the basis of decisions untraceable. Worse still, if a system becomes inpenetrable by outsiders, how can it be stopped or interrupted if this is necessary. Our view of the digital world is already very limited, what if we can’t possibly read what is going on between semi autonomous systems.
There are several examples of document contents being changed in transit, from the US congress to the European Parlaiment. You would have people talking thinking they saw the same text, but in fact the didn’t. In the US it is quite common laws get passed, then gutted and changed! What is passed is a black box, and how the texts change can remain a mystery. Here there is serious need for encryption. But if there was this encryption and someone had control over it outside our knowledge, then we would totally lose the plot as to where our laws come from.
Just like the threat of a few terrorists has siphoned trillions into unproductive defence and surveillance instituteds (under who’s control god only knows), the threat of cybercrime can push all of corporate internet behind encryption layers, out of sight of anyone without the necessary computing power. This not only makes our world less transparent, it makes it more inert. How can we stop harmfull practices if we can’t monitor them, how can we know what corporations who evidently lie and fake science and bribe politicans are doing if we can’t read their emails, not even in court. What kind of control do we have over a system that only shows itself to its minions who are carefully selected to be too insensitive to judge the info they are exposed to. Cryptography may become a steel wall around a system that is damaging and a threat to us, as we know the carbon industrialized economy is.
The alternative is to disarm, disband, stand down amries, go local. Go transparent. But this is hard without a source of wealth like land in the hands of those that want to return to a simpler life. The idea is not that there can only be trust on a small scale, the idea is that that trust, when betrayed, does not have consequences for more people that the ones involved. With renewables the local activities of people are plenty to keep them safe and healthy. Why have enormous international financial systems in the first place? Why have world destoying military installations at all. It seems that we are either going to see these systems go dark through encryption or we will discover we don’t really need them if we use renewables to generate enough wealth.
Not knowing what your opponent is doing is only a problem if you have an opponent. Not being able to see what other people are doing can actually create an adversarial atmosphere. Just like Donald Rumsfeld started the cold war by saying the russians had weapons the US did not know about based on calssified information (where did we hear that before). The examples of exagerated threats to fund existing security institutions is endless (Sin Beth for example). It’s a tried and tested method to justify agression to accuse someone of a crime. How difficult will it become when information of those crimes becomes hard to trace, or verify, and we are forced to trust ‘trusted channels’.
If we end up in a Cryptonomy, where we all function more or less with minimal information we get from media and emplyers without being able to verify it, if this is the nature of a financial system that nobody can peek into because all communication is encrypted, if this is the nature of industrial trading systems that send prices that can not be verified through any other channel, or a medical system that makes doctors tell you there is no cure, but in fact you lost in a secret lottery for expensive treatment that could have saved you. The opportunity for abuse in a system of maximal secrecy are unlimited. Not to mention the cost and possible damage when encryption keys get lost.
We should instead work towards robustness based on a 100% sustainable system, with minimal dependence on anything beyond the horizon. The point of all economic activity shifted from keeping the general public alive to keeping the fossil/banking elite alive, since they could leverage its dependency on oil and money. Keeping the general population alive is almost a side effect today. We should not allow this distorted system to consolidate using encryption, because it will steam on even with only robots in factories and peope starving in the streets, and it will be very hard to find a place to start controling it.