talonkarrde: (Default)
This is what he does, night after night, his face pale against the illuminated screen.

He browses his feeds, his forums, his games, and he searches. For criminals, he would say; for prey, you would think, if you watched the way his eyes devour the words hungrily.

He looks for the poster that needs to put in his or her place, for the person who is overstepping his bounds and thinks he’s immune to retaliation because it’s the internet. He looks for the editor of a magazine that thinks that the internet is public domain, for the thirteen year old that thinks it’s okay to harass her worst enemy by pretending to be a guy she likes.

He styles himself a as vigilante, but instead of being just Oracle, he dispenses justice as Batman. Ruthless, he figures himself to be. But fair, of course. He swears he's fair. After all, he only targets those who have done something wrong to someone else.

And once he does find that a target, that special person that's made a post that catches his eye, he starts to gather information on them. He starts to hang out in the places that they do, and creates a couple dummy accounts to interact with them in different ways. He makes friends with them, and enemies with them, and insinuates himself in their lives, and it takes weeks, months, occasionally years.

But he has time, and he weaves many webs for many victims at once.

People have five major types of relationships in their lives, five major categories which affect their happiness and how they function as human beings. The happiest people are those that have succeeded in all five; the most miserable lack fulfillment in all of these areas. What he does is attack them from all but one of those angles — he saves their self-worth for last, and he finds it's most effective to work from the outside in.  Generally, he finds, the dissolution of the first four crushes the last anyway.

Which four, then? He has a small text file for each person, headings for each area in that file, information listed under each heading that he can use against them. Society, the first one reads, under which is listed information about their careers, their past jobs, and what they aspire to be and what their weaknesses and failings are. Friendships, the next heading says, and has their confessed dislikes of their friends, their irritations that could be taken so terribly and the information they would never say to a friend's face. Family is the third one, with everything he can find about the cruelties and torments suffered, with information about what led to estrangement, with arguments that have never been resolved.

And then there is Love, to be filled with everything to destroy the relationship with the one they trust the most. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's remarkably difficult, but in his time, he knows this: that two people can never become one, that there are differences that can split even two who love each other endlessly. It may be attitude, habit, religion, or past infidelity, but he knows it exists, and simply must be found.

He starts with this basic principle: all people have secrets, pieces of knowledge that would be remarkably damaging to how others view them, whether they only know them professionally or whether they have built a family together. Some people have desires that the world does not accept, others have made mistakes but buried them instead of confessing, and still others have active secrets they hope no one ever learns. Regardless of what the specific secret is, though, there aren’t too many people whose closets have no grinning skulls in them, whose floorboards do not occasionally beat.

And even those, the few, the strong, the angels — there are ways.

There are ways.

He follows his prey to their online watering holes and stalks them carefully, reading through the paper trail that every person leaves in their day to day lives, and finds out a little here and a little there. He chats them up and makes them mad, pushing their buttons and pulling their strings. And sooner or later, once he feels that he knows his target enough, he sets the trap, baits it, and when the time is right, springs it shut.

An email here, remarking on infidelities; a text there, exploiting insecurities. A few voicemails expressing opinions they would never have told their friends, a few text messages sent from anonymous numbers with the knowledge only their old enemies could have, a present from an ex- at the most inopportune of times; these are his starting salvos, his efforts to weaken the foundations.

Then, when the stress builds small incidents into big problems, when the target is feeling alone and vulnerable and wondering what suddenly went wrong in their lives, that’s when he steps it up, until jobs are lost and dishes are thrown and the cops are called, until they start retreating from everything they've held to, until they start looking desperately for a way out. 

And that's when he steps in and offers a helping hand from a friendly account; that’s when he’s there to save them — from himself.

They take it, of course, knowing no better, and when they’ve confessed everything to him, well, of course, he betrays them one last time, giving their darkest secrets to the world, turning their true friends away from them, sending them crashing to despair.

Suicide, he says, is not unknown to those that he targets.

And then he walks away, to find another target, to look for someone else to destroy, all in the name of justice.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Let me tell you a story— wait, I’ve done that a lot, already. Let me tell you of something that I believe.

I will start here: I believe in the internet.

When I moved to my new middle school in the summer after fifth grade, there were about a hundred and something kids in the my class, and everyone knew more or less everyone else in their grade. I was new, and I needed to make friends, and despite struggling a bit, I did. We all did, back when we were middle schoolers, and this is what I’ve observed: we often made friends based on superficial things — taste in books, or TV shows, or movies, or bands we liked. ‘Hey, N ‘Sync’s new album is pretty good’ became a springboard to invite others over to enjoy other CDs in someone’s music collection; a shared interest in Starcraft became an invitation to LAN parties, and so on and so forth.

Memories were formed, though, and memories are important.

In high school, there were all of a sudden a thousand teenagers crammed into a building, or a few buildings. There were different levels of classes now, and many extracurricular activities, and new people to meet and hang out with, even if they weren’t in your grade. And so more friendships were made and fostered and developed, and the result was that we came out of high school with friends that we had been in clubs for four years with, or had taken all those hard AP classes with, and shared a good portion of our lives with. I made some pretty good friendships during those times.

And did we remember the middle school friends we drifted away from? I don’t know.

Then there was college, and for me, at least, college was about the reversal of expectations from high school. With 20,000 or so students, instead of seeing the odd person you didn’t know, it was about seeing the occasional person you did, and delighting in the “oh, you’re in my Chem 204 class, right? What’s your name again? I just know you sit three rows in front of me, sorry.” College, though, was also about joining debate and joining the newspaper — the official one, we had two or three other less popular ones — and taking a very limited set of classes with other people. And it was about living with other people, too, and that was sometimes good and sometimes bad; for me, luckily, more good than bad.

And there were the high school friends I didn’t really talk to anymore.

And now there is this magical thing called the internet, and perhaps you see where I am going with this. With each level of schooling, there were more people that I came in contact with, and more importantly, more people that shared the same and specific interests I did. In middle school, just sharing an activity with me was enough to establish a friendship on. In high school, though, you could find those with the same band of classes, those that did activities. With college, there were enough people that you could find someone that shared your major, your minor, and the exact three activities that you enjoyed doing. It stops after college though — you don’t get the same effect in your workplace.

Which is why they say that the friends you make in college will be there for the rest of your life.

I believe that the internet is the next step in this evolution. It has a incredible number of people on it — Facebook is around five-hundred million users, isn’t it? — which is a few order of magnitudes higher than my college. And the power of it is that through it, we can connect to those people that share the same incredibly specific interests as us. Online games like Skyrates and Echo Bazaar, authors like Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi, those are some of my interests, and the internet has allowed me to connect — and meet in person! — those that are, as I think of it, geographically distant (or near!) but personally compatible.

It allows us to connect to people that we never would have met, otherwise.

That doesn’t mean that there is no danger. As the news reports, and as we all personally have had some experience with this, not everyone is who they seem, and the cloak of anonymity is one that does not always bring out the best in people. But I believe that the inherent nature of the Internet should not stop people from taking leaps of faith, and from trusting. In college, and even in high school, there were people that you knew were not necessarily trustworthy or honest — and more hurtfully, there were those that you thought were, but later turned out not to be. The Internet presents the same issues. By that same token, in college, you knew you shouldn’t give your contact information out to anyone that asks; it’s that same judgment you should exercise on the Internet. But these issue themselves are not new issues, they’re simply extensions of privacy concerns we’ve dealt with all our lives. And that brings me to choosing who you associate with.

And my association is this: I believe in LiveJournal.

I believe in a group of writers that has a site to spill out their hearts and their souls and their secrets to others that they have not met, or have only met once. I believe in the idea where everyone writes for others to see, some locked only to their friends, others open to the entire world, for any person who stumbles upon their work to see. This is as close to a ‘club’ in college as there is, and there are amazing writers here doing amazing things.

We are different! There are those that write fiction and those that write non-fiction, and those that straddle the line and mix fantasy and reality in a way that no one but themselves can call the different. And we all have our little clubs and groups and cliques and preferences, and so there are those that are in fanfiction communities and those that are in mutual support groups and a million other preferences that they have. I, personally, do not choose to associate with all of those people — which means I haven’t gone deep enough.

I will end here: I believe in you.

I believe in getting to know those that take part in this little idea that came out of Gary’s mind, you see, because I think I’ve found those on the internet that are like myself. No, we don’t all think the exact same things — but what’s the fun in that? We don’t look for our identical twins when we look for friends. We just look for those that we share enough with, and I think I share plenty with all of you.

And whether you write fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, I think that we’ve exchanged enough here that I’d like to call you a friend. So to answer the question, who are the ones ‘trip-trapping over my LJ’? They’re friends, you see, present or future.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me welcome you to the next world war: one that's going on as we speak.

No, you don't need to look outside your window; there are no bombs, or troops establishing beachheads, or four-star generals poring over a map in a hidden bunker somewhere. Or if they're poring over a map, it doesn't depict any land range. The battlefield is one that can't be visualized like that.

You see, the salvos being launched are packets of data; the generals are men and women, often sitting in their own homes, in front of their computers; and the collateral damage... is still the lives and well-beings of innocents, the same it's always been.

The threat is more distributed than any in history. It comes not from one army, as in the time of Alexander the Great, nor from multiple fronts, as in World War II, nor even the impossibility of fighting insurgents in a hostile province, like we see in Afghanistan. It is global, with pockets of activity in every major country, some sponsored by foreign powers, but many freelance.

They used to be called hackers, and they used to send viruses that would crash individual computers. Blaster was an early one, a worm that would shut down your computer after you started up, no matter what you did. But as viruses go, Blaster wasn't that successful, even though it spread widely and took many computers down for days, or even weeks.

Think about it: parasites survive and reproduce the best when they don't kill the host — when, in fact, they're not detected at all. A mosquito that can suck your blood without you noticing it is going to pass on its genes; the one you squashed because you felt the itch is not.

So viruses evolved, changing their methods of attack, their goals, their execution. They stopped being spread by email and started masquerading as Windows alerts and, ironically, anti-virus programs; they started infecting and collecting information; they started waiting for commands from a foreign source.

The last trait is the most chilling, because it changes computers infected from being simple dummy robots that can only execute a few lines of code (no matter how disastrous they are) to an army that can adapt on the fly to threats that challenge it. The biggest army in cyberspace right now isn't owned by a corporation or a government — it's called Conficker, and it has more than 7 million computers in up to 200 countries under its control. Conficker has infected government computers, hospital computers, and, of course, the computers of people like you and me.

That is the enemy — a general who is open to the highest bidder, who has millions of computers across America that he can take at a moment's notice, forming them to become a weapon that can down almost any connected system. And nowadays, there are many, many systems that are connected, from mass transit to patient records, from government resources to corporate networks.

How do we fight them? Well, our government has admittedly been slow to respond. One of the biggest problems is that the military has always been a reactive force, one that always learns to fight the enemy that it just defeated — the Maginot Line, for example, is a great example. Part of this is because the leaders and generals who are good at anticipating the enemy in one war are rarely insightful enough to see past their area of expertise. Part of this is because we never really fight the same war twice, because there are always different actors involved, different technology deployed, and different situations that arise. And part of this is because our enemy is always going to be smaller, more fluid, and thus able to respond faster than we are.

There are defenses, though. In America, organizations like the NSA, or the United States Cyber Command, are fighting against those who would seek to destroy us. But most importantly, this is a war where normal citizens, more than in any other war, will be able to lend assistance. Security researchers may come up with defenses that the government can't dream of; one teenager in his room may be able to propose an attack that would completely wipe out the enemy. In decades past, this would have been ludicrous.

But we won't all be programmers that understand the fine points of honeypots or penetration testing. As always, some of us will be civilians, and the best we can hope for is that attacks won't be successful, our sites that we visit won't go down, and our lifestyles won't be disrupted. But again, more than any civilians in wars that have come before us, we have an obligation to act.

We must secure ourselves. We must defend our computers from those that would seek to use it, and we must educate ourselves on the many forms attacks can take. We may not be able to win the war, but we must be aware enough to not unwittingly become pawns of the enemy.

Thus: learn. Learn about security, about how to keep your computer your own and not the agent of a foreign power, or unfriendly hacker, or terrorist group. Learn that there is more than just Facebook and Google out there, and learn about how connected everything really is.

Learn about how vulnerable you are, and then fix it.

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talonkarrde

March 2017

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