Architected Futures™

Tools and strategies ... for boiling the ocean

Thought for Today: Dealing With Russian Hackers

Submitted by joe.vansteen on Fri, 12/16/2016 - 10:43

Just a short note, because it's important. It has a lot of dimensions, but there's also a big one in terms of what we're viewing as hackers and hacking.

You will never be able to completely assure your documented secrets folks, other than keeping them entirely to yourself. And we all know that's no fun. To use it (your idea) you need to share it, to give it to, well, maybe, just your best friends. It has to be communicated to someone, somehow. But communication and documentation are a crack in secrecy that's like a leak in the dam. And sooner or later the dam breaks, the secret gets out.  And then what happens, you're in "recovery" mode. Wasting your resources. Not at all what we would call Six Sigma efficiency.

Now there's a lot of reasons for secrets of various types, and they have to be communicated with "trusted" people. If Coca Cola's formula only existed in that proverbial vault1, how would they make any product? So, there's people on the production line that have to know. But there are folks who have nothing to do with "managing" Coca Cola who probably also know, or they know close enough in terms of being able to duplicate it. After all, it's not one thing, there are "versions" of Coke. Plus, have you ever heard of Pepsi, or RC Cola, of Shasta Cola (I don't know if that's around any more), or lots and lots of others. And the original "secret" cocaine based formula isn't really a secret either. At least not in any consequential way. If you were to put some cocaine into Pepsi or RC Cola, I'm pretty sure you would get close enough to the same "buzz" and be just as "hooked" on them as on the "original, real, true to life, secret formula." Ask some people who worked in trading rooms in Wall Street, or London, or whereever, not that I have any reason to suspect they would know. But I bet they don't all drink Coca Cola. There have to be some Pepsi people in there somewhere.) The secret wasn't the other stuff, it was coke. Coca Cola removed it in 1903. Even Coke doesn't make coke anymore. But, they push the idea that their formula is still secret., and somehow magical. 

It's not. But some people perfer it over Pepsi, "for the taste of it."

"The Secret" ... That's called obfuscation.2

Obfuscation is the obscuring of intended meaning in communication, making the message confusing, willfully ambiguous, or harder to understand. It may be intentional or unintentional (although the former is usually connoted) and may result from circumlocution (yielding wordiness) or from use of jargon or even argot (yielding economy of words but excluding outsiders from the communicative value). Unintended obfuscation in expository writing is usually a natural trait of early drafts in the writing process, when the composition is not yet advanced, and it can be improved with critical thinking and revising, either by the writer or by another person with sufficient reading comprehension and editing skills.

The name comes from Latin obfuscatio, from obfuscāre ("to darken"). Obfustication is a common variant of the name, especially in British English. Synonyms include beclouding and abstrusity. Obscurantism is intentional obscurity, whether by withholding communication, obfuscating it, or both.

That's a complicated word. Words can be used to obfuscate ideas,. or to clarify. Just look at the media, advertising and the news. Social media is a real afterburner kind of accelerator for this. Super-charged obfuscation. I had a co-worker named Ket Watters3 who worked with me on a project back in the 1970s. (Circa April 30, 1976 to be exact in terms of our keystone document4.) He kept a small note card sized "poster" on his bulletin board at his desk:

Eschew Obfuscation

It's a play on words. He liked those. I assume he still does. It means, well, use the link. (I could use that as a motto for what Architected Futures and EATS are trying to do. Everything is related!)

The real secret about most secrets is that people don't know the tail end of the story. But they want you to think they do, so they say it's a secret. They are as mystified as the next guy as to where we need to go, how we need to get there, and what to do after we've arrived. All they are really hiding is ignorance. We think we know where we came from, and where we ran into problems, and what worked for selected situations in the past. Of course, we loose all of our notes about that all the time. (Like old Post-It notes falling off the board and getting swept up by the janitor. Whoops!) But they have some insights. And what you know that your competitor doesn't know has tactical advantages.  So we think it's good to keep them "secret." And we've invented whole fields of mathematics to help do the job. Really high-end stuff. It's called cryptography. That becomes a battle front. That front was the front that won World War II. The Germans had secrets. The Allies had Alan Turing and company. Ultimately, it was German procedural screw ups that turned the tide. But we really don't know, and we wish we knew what the other's know, because they must have the secret missing ingredient, or "they want to hurt us, to take our _____ (fill in the blank) away." Thus, hacking is born. It happened in the Ancient world, Persia, Egypt, Rome, etc., just not with today's crypto codes and Wikileaks. But it's the same thing. Modern boys, modern toys, same illusion. Same results and effects. And, ... Secrets leak. Then we're embarrassed and need to waste time finding out who leaked what little we know that could expose what we don't know.

[JVS Editorial note 1/28/2017 - Basically the views expressed above I have held since the days of the Viet Nam war and the Pentagon Papers. Largely I still hold them. This note however, is a recognition of a need for a statement of confidentiality regarding intelligence on which human lives can be dependent. My plea is not for totally wide open books that could threaten or jeopardize human life in hostile environments. It is a plea to eliminate unnecessary secrets concerning all other matters so that we can trust the need for confidentially when it truly exists.]

I'm not saying that there is no legitimate reason  to have and keep a secret. But most of the time, I think we are hiding ignorance more than we are hiding knowledge. And the knowledge we are hiding from each other is what we could use together to solve the problem set that we don't know how to solve. When people claim to have a "secret sauce," watch your wallet, they're usually out to take something from you. Look for the people who want to share. They've got good stuff, maybe, that you can evaluate and work with. Keeping secrets can lose elections. (Hillary?) It eats away at and destroys trust.  Just what was you reason for keeping what you knew about ____ from us? (That's not to Hillary, that's to a whole lot of folks! Donald? Negotiating strategy? I don't think so. For most stuff, the guy on the other side of the table knows more than 80% of your secret already, and the rest doesn't matter. Mutual benefit makes the best negotiating strategy, and that's by exposure of knowledge, not hiding. That's why we have to pay lawyers to find ways to make the complex world of secrets navigable with Non Disclosure Agreements. It's much easier to have open books. More efficient too. And less expensive due to fewer attorney and court fees.)

Note to the US Government, that means you congress: The best way to counter-act Russian, Chinese, Iranian, North Korean and any other "bogeymen" in your closet is to catalog and index all of your "secrets," decrypt them, and publish them on the internet. I suspect two significant outcomes:

  1. If you are honest in what you publish, you will go a long ways toward regaining the trust of the people's of the world whom you claim are your friends, including, but not limited to your own citizens.
  2. You will totally confuse your adversaries and send them wasting their time trying to figure out why you kept some of this stuff secret in the first place. And, the kicker, your enemies won't believe you published everything. So, they'll be confused searching and wondering about what you held back. That, or, they'll just publish their stuff and we can share. And see if any "missing pieces" in the puzzle can be made to fit.

It's like a "fake" in sports, a "fake" that's a double fake, and not a fake, at all, or is it a fake? If we handed a card-key to Vladimir Putin with the access codes to the NSA and told him to go to it. Have a ball. And we gave the same access codes to all of the people in the United States, all of the people in the world, so they could see what we know, why we know it, how we know it, the workers in this company (aka the citizens), and our affiliated partners could straighten out the few places where our "interstates" aren't aligned properly and we could use our resources more efficiently to solve real problems.  Our competitors would be scratching their heads, and we could get back to getting this factory system (aka the world) backing humming again. (Of course, those "embarrassing" things would need to be published too. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. Contrition is good for the soul. That's why the Catholics invented confession. And the whole "sack cloth thing" in the middle ages.)

While I'm here: Another note to congress, about a "functional system" and how it is "supposed" to work:

  • We, the American People, are supposed to be "a team." Actually, we are supposed to be a coordinated sub-team, a specialist team, within a bigger team called the human race.
  • Anyway, it's good for teams, in practice, or for selection of who gets to play on game day, to divide up and compete with each other, to test our strengths and weaknesses. It's part of what called SWOT analysis. (We seem to have lost track of that somewhere. Re the above, weigh the opportunities of open versus the "protection" against threats gained by secrecy. Where is the balance? Life is Tao. There's a lot to learn from the Chinese, and I'm not talking about how to build iPhones for cheap.) 
  • That's practice. That's preparation. That's background research.
  • When game day arrives, teams play as one. You don't put players on the field, pick your own sports analogy, who compete with each other while you are supposed to be fighting the other guys. That is not, I repeat NOT, conducive to success.
  • That doesn't mean you don't have discussions about tactics alternatives while you are engaging battles, but you don't intentionally sabotage your own guys for personal benefit and glory. That isn't how it's done. And, a lot you seem to have completely missed the boat.

Note to the American people, the British who voted for BrExit, and everybody else. See above. We could all use some reflection.

Just an opinion.  I could go on, but there's real work to do. I need to unravel more strands and try to clarify complexity around what AF is all about and how to use it to solve real problems.


  • 1. There is a real vault, I think it's in Atlanta. But that's show folks. Barnum & Baily. I don't call that reality, even if you can touch and feel it. It's a fun thing, but that's all. Entertainment, ... and, of course, based on today's obfuscated value systems, big business.
  • 2. Everything else it's called is a subject for  discussion groups. Lots of discussion groups.
  • 3. I hope putting your name in here is okay, Ket. But I need to do this in a way that people know I'm not just making this stuff up. There is a major breach of public trust these days.
  • 4. I have a copy in my library. I can demonstrate this stuff.

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