Why big data and analytics are sexy, and why only awareness can secure them.
What doesn’t kill you will make you…suffer longer (Paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche)
Information is sexy, and sexy sells. These days, nothing seems to be sexier to than the “Big Data” and “Analytics”, which are the latest buzz words in the cloud we all seems to live upon. You know terms become buzz words when board members start to use expressions previously only known to academeeks (academic geeks). When people who have little clue to the nature of a specific technology starts to believe in it as a business enabler, you can be certain it is a hype (cyber, anyone?). Or, as consultancy firms prefer to call the latest buzz: “Ka-Ching”.
I said the above with the utmost respect to board members of any organisation, and with humorous view of consultancy. Big data and Analytics can be extremely powerful and seems to be a game changer in many industries, but the fact is that we are being sold a very simplistic, narrow, and sometimes manipulated view of it. When people (board member included) try to understand a technology without seeing the bigger picture (or in this case, the big-bigger-picture), they end up making really bad decision when it comes to securing technologies, and this leads to suffering of multiple stakeholders. Information security experts only develop expertise to tackle the technical challenges such technologies bring, but since they also uneducated on the big-bigger-picture their advice is unable to prevent the disasters. But hey, ignorance is bliss. Deja-Vu awareness. I missed you.
First, let us look at security via the prism of evolution. Survival, as we all know, is one element of success in this universe (R.I.P., Dodo), and its inhabitants have a natural tendency to develop survival skills. Security contributes (yet not dictates) to how long you will manage to survive. Confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) plays a critical role not only in the digital realm but also in our own lives: we hide ourselves from predators, we try to stay intact, and we do our best to be available to members who are in the opposite gender spectrum of our specie. What else contributes to our ability to survival? Love and empathy. Take for example bats, who feed new born even if they are not their biological babies. This “empathy” shows a level of awareness which was considered at Darwin’s days as not possible. Human love has extended it, where a deep sense of empathy for people who live far away (e.g. Syria) lead to actions of individuals which contribute to their survival. To say it radically – love I the best security there is, a result of deeper level of awareness which extends beyond your ego.
Information security is an extension of the biological sphere of experiences, contributing to how long you can survive in the digital era. In the information world losses of Confidentiality, Integrity or Availability are equivalent to an injury and sometimes death in the biological world. Like in the biological world, most organisations (which is a form of organism) fails to grasp the importance of awareness of their human elements. Even worse, they have a false-sense-of-awareness, which increases their survival rates. Awareness annoys techno-purists who believe in technology is the solution to everything, almost as much peacocks annoyed Darwin because they exposed that a female peacock in nature were choosing the males and not the other way around, “as god intended”.
The Spiral of Experience
Most people will get utterly bored when reading the following segment of the article, because we like our knowledge like we like our food – fast. If you wish to become wiser, please stay. If not, feel free to fast forward to the elephant (in the room).
So, back to big data.
When the dizziness from the “Big data analytics” buzziness subsides, you discover that big data is another knowledge system, which is part of the bigger knowledge system we call universe, all driven by what we experience as time (to more about it, please visit my talk “The Cyber Minority Report – Gender Affairs”).
Before we will continue, let us look at how knowledge systems are being created via the spiral of experience, and from there let’s go forward and explain why security via technology is impossible.
The spiral of experience is build upon 3 pillars – technology, experience, information.
Information is what being generated when technology is going via an experience. A white light passing via a prism is an experience, which creates information. The separation of visible light into its different colors is known as dispersion. Another example: Your ears right now are experiencing sound waves.
Knowledge is the ability to structure information, by technology. DNA instructs cell to manufacture a particular protein. The information from the sound you heard is translated into words in English by your brain, which is a neurological technology. This same technology turns the “words” information when it structured into sentences, creating knowledge, which at some point give rise to another technology – the mind.
Technology and Knowledge are the true chicken and egg – Knowledge is created by technology, and technology is created because of knowledge. I call it a knowledge system.
Our universe, our brain, cyberspace – are examples to what scientist calls “Complex Adaptive systems”. “complex adaptive systems” are systems so complex they creates new properties (or technologies) all the time and they self-organise themselves – meaning they create knowledge. Big data is also a complex adaptive system – in this case, information is being created when the analytics hypothesises are being used, and it is then being structured to knowledge, again via the analytical tools. The hypothesises are further self learning (e.g. the via more experiences and so on.
At some point, a system becomes so complex that it becomes what is called complex system, give rise to emerging properties, or technologies, which creates more information in each experience, which is than structured into knowledge, which give rise to more information and new technologies – and so on.
And this is, my friends, the spiral of experience.
The Elephant in the Room
Is that big data in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? (Paraphrasing Jessica Rabbit, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”)
Knowledge can translate to power, when information is structured in a specific way which allows someone (individual, groups, or technology) to get something out of it which isn’t visible to others who observes the information. Throughout human history the few who knew secrets of knowledge held a powerful advantage over others. This was true for those who mastered the movement of stars, those who practiced engineering skills by learning sacred geometry (you welcome, freemasons), It was true to those who mastered the secrets of the atoms (I miss you, Feynman), and it is true to our big data corporations.
The spiral of experience, or the relationship between technology, experiences and knowledge (told you you should have stayed J) is at the core of evolution. One might say, that this means that in the core of evolution is the unknown unknowns. We know that were living 1000 years ago, we had no reference point to describe life without the internet, because the notion of constantly being connected with people from the other side of the planet, or being able to see and chat with your mother who lives in another country will sound like a witch trick and you most likely be treated with a refreshing burning oil bath (or any other “game of throne” sadistic episode script you can think of).
In our case, the spiral of experience means that big data creates unknown unknown. This is bad news in the domain of information security, because how can you secure what you can’t even tag today? One of the most fundamental pillars of security is classification, but you cannot classify emerging properties before they arrive, and when they arrive and you discover that they rely on what in the past was considered as non-classified information assets – what would you do then? If you think of classifying only the algorithm that gave you the information, how would you protect it? Algorithms are technologies, but a very different from the technologies we are used to in our current information technologies universe. They are more like ideas, hypothesises. They are essentially a product of mind, and the only way to protect the mind is via awareness (as I’ve written about in the technology insanity).
So back we are to awareness, to the land of love and empathy.
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