Search Is a Threat. You’ve Been Warned!

February 23, 2008

It’s Saturday, February 23, 2008. It’s cold. I’m on my way to the gym to ensure that my youthful figure defies time’s corrosive forces. I look at the headlines in my newsreader, and I am now breaking my vow of “No News. No, Really!”

Thomas Claburn, Information Week journalist, penned a story with the headline, “Google-Powered Hacking Makes Search a Threat.” Read the story for yourself. Do you agree with the premise that information is bad when discoverable via a search engine?

With inputs from Cult of the Dead Cow and a nod to the Department of Homeland Security, the story flings buzzwords about security threats and offers some observations about “defending against search”. The article has a pyramid form, a super headline, quotes (lots of quotes), and some super tech references such as “the Goolag Scan”, among others. This is an outstanding example of technical journalism. I say, “Well done, sir.”

My thoughts are:

  • The fix for this problem of “bad” information is darn easy. Get one or two people to control information. The wrong sort of information can be blocked or the authors arrested. Plus, if a bad “data apple” slips through the homogenization process, we know with whom to discuss the gaffe.
  • The payoff of stopping “bad information” is huge. Without information, folks won’t know any thing “bad”, so the truth of “If ignorance is bliss, hello, happy” is realized. Happy folks are more productive. Eliminating bad information boosts the economy.
  • The organizations and individuals responsible for “threats” can be stopped. Bad guys can’t harm the good guys. Good information, therefore, doesn’t get corroded by the bad information. No bad “digital apples” can spoil the barrel of data.

I’m no Jonathan Swift. I couldn’t edit a single Cervantes’ sentence. I am a lousy cynic. I do, however, have one nano-scale worry about a digital “iron maiden”. As you may know, the iron maiden was a way to punish bad guys. When tricked out with with some inward facing spikes (shown below), the bad buy was impaled. If the bad guy was unlucky, death was slow, agonizing I assume. The iron maiden, I think, was a torture gizmo. Some historical details are murky, but I am not too keen on finding out via a demo in “iron” or in “digital” mode.

I think that trying to figure out what information is “good” and what information is “bad” is reasonably hard to do. Right, now, I prefer systems that don’t try to tackle these particular types of predictive tasks for me. I will take my chances figuring out what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. I’m 64, and so far, so good.

In behind-the-firewall systems, determining what to make available and to whom is an essential exercise. An error can mean a perp walk in an orange suit for the CEO and a pack of vice presidents.

Duplicating this process on the Web is — shall we say — a big job. I’m going to the gym. This news stuff is depressing me.

Stephen Arnold, February 23, 2008


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