We've created a monster, as predicted
Information security is an industry that grows fat on eating itself
“What we are creating now is a monster whose existence is going to change history, provided there is any history left.” - John Von Neumann
There is a marker in the history of civilization where our future security became more perilous than ever before; when logic and math combined to form a new type of computing that enabled the creation of a thermonuclear weapon; a weapon so powerful that if used today it would result in an estimated two billion people dying from a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and 5 billion people dying from a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia due to the global effects that radiation would have on crops, marine fisheries, and livestock.
Many would argue that the successful detonation of the first ever thermonuclear device in 1952 would certainly qualify as that marker, but the risk of such a war happening is extremely low thanks to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD relies on the theory of rational deterrence, which says that if two opponents each have the capability of using nuclear weapons, and that both players would die if either player used it, then neither player will use it.
However, John Von Neumann wasn’t nearly as worried about the bomb that he helped build as he was about the high speed computer that he invented in order to mathematically prove that such a bomb was possible. The “monster” in Von Neumann’s quote at the start of this chapter wasn’t the bomb. It was his stored program architecture code that ran the MANIAC computer at Los Alamos National Laboratory; an architecture that was inspired by his former student Alan Turing’s paper “On Computable Numbers”. Stored Program Architecture went on to become the basis for digital computing worldwide.
With thermonuclear war, while the potential for harm was astronomical, the risk of it happening was very low thanks to MAD. Computing, on the other hand, was a seductive charmer that only a select few understood fully in the beginning. As computing became more pervasive and complex, no one understood more than their specialty. The average person can assess risk when it comes to things that they understand, but no one completely understands how computing works, even the experts, and so our collective risk has grown to the point where online sabotage, extortion, theft, and espionage are unstoppable. Cyber insurance companies are now worried about claims so large that they could result in bankrupting the industry.
In order to understand just how unsafe the world is today because of the perils inherent in software and hardware, we need to return to Los Alamos and the MANIAC computer.
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