Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cyber Shock Wave--Fearmongering on CNN

So this past weekend CNN broadcast its two-hour prime-time special on the recent Shock-Wave exercise. The aim of the exercise was to simulate a catastrophic cyber attack in order to scare the American public so that they would be willing to accept the imposition of even more draconian security powers for the US government. As a one-off, the broadcast will inevitably fail to succeed. As part of a continued premediation campaign distributed across print, televisual, and networked media, a campaign that is in full swing and appears to be heating up, Cyber Shock Wave might have some small effect on modulating individual and collective affect.

What was most striking about this simulation was its simplistic model of how the government might respond to such a catastrophe. The largest problem was that the simulation began from an assumption of nearly autonomous, separate spheres of action. So the whole event involved discussions among various government officials, responding to breaking news of the cyber attack received from GNN, a faux-CNN news outlet, in preparation for advising the President on what he should say to the American people and how he should deal with it.

The model of power deployed here was so one-dimensional as to be hysterical. There was no sense, for example, that such an attack would immediately, and in some sense always already, invoke massive distributed technical responses from government hackers and cyber-security personnel (both human and more importantly non-human). Any deliberation about response would inevitably have to incorporate and address the massive data flow that would be coming in about source, nature of the attack, possible counter-attacks, and so forth. Undoubtedly millions of bots and other network crawlers and scrapers would already have been deployed in anticipation of and response to such an attack. The idea that the government response would consist of a bunch of mostly card-carrying AARP-member white guys sitting around a room responding to cable news reports imagines a model of government already outmoded when Kubrick released Dr. Strangelove.

Nor was there any sense that such an attack (carried out via cellphones, which the President apparently had no authority to "quarantine") would also be met immediately by millions of netizens, who would undoubtedly circulate via social media both the need to avoid using these phones to spread the "virus" and possible ways to resist such a virus or to work around it. Participatory media would undoubtedly play a significant, if not quite calculable, role in responding to any such attack.

By failing to recognize the intermingling of the technical and the social realms (among others), this "simulation" did not simulate anything but a fantasy of white male governmental power seeking to reinforce or recover a sphere of influence that has been rapidly diminishing in an age of socially mediated networks. Cyber Shock Wave was nothing but a bald-faced attempt to scare the American public away from its increased reliance on, and involvement with, socially networked media and back into the arms of cable television and pasty-faced government officials.