So as any of you who visited HPC yesterday know, it was attacked by a malware hosting site. I'm not sure how they do it, but somehow they get in and implant iframe code to serve up malicious software for unsuspecting visitors. I think it may have been a security hole in WordPress combined with my own laziness around passwords (now fixed). Either way, it wasn't a good day and I spent many hours cleaning out this bad code and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Many hours were also spent by Ivan Storck (of Sustainable Websites - my host), William Dodson (from OBX Designworks) and my friend Mathieu (developer in Montreal) in helping me through this. By the time we got all of the malware attack cleaned out, Google had blacklisted my site (which led to a series of blacklisting by all the sites using Google's indexing API). Yuck.
I wasn't attacked personally. This happens randomly all of the time. Somehow there is money to be made in ruining the internet. However, I find it very odd to think that one would wreck the very thing that provides them with a steady stream of income. I compared the action to the self-replicating Smith on the Matrix. (spoiler alert) Imagine if Smith would have won - he would have taken the machine down and everyone would have died. There would be no point in him existing anymore.
Which brings me to my point: where did we go wrong in the world to encourage the Smiths? The malware hosts? The scammers, spammers, frauds, grifters, etc? Those that would pollute the very environment they need to exist in? These people are obviously gifted with the ability to problem solve, code, think up elaborate schemes and strategize. If they used this talent for good and not for evil, imagine how AWESOME the world would be!
It's a tragedy of the commons, where selfish thinkers abuse the common space for their own gain. Of course, this thinking - if truly strategic - assumes that not all will follow the selfish path. The tragedy occurs when everyone thinks selfishly and the commons is ruined and unusable, leaving nothing for anyone to exploit any longer.
If instead human beings thought truly strategically - and this is the basis to my favourite book in the universe The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley - and contributed to the commons, we would all thrive! But this selfish, short-term thinking hacking away of small pieces of the pie happens and we all suffer...including the hackers themselves eventually.
This happens because - as Ridley says in The Origins of Virtue - the system is set up to encourage such selfish, short term thinking. Narrow view competition, multiple times removed culpability and a focus on short-term rewards have encouraged this. For instance, there are corporate structures, with their quarterly reporting (short-term view) and lack of social responsibility (the responsibility is with the shareholders who are far removed from the decision making as well as the consequences of that decision making). Copyright and patents also contribute to the attitude. I would argue that almost everything about surviving in modern society has to do with removing ourselves from responsibility and giving us the individual task to survive one day at a time (but that is a different post).
Thus, we encourage a great deal of tragedy in the commons themselves, costing billions of dollars in security, fraud protection, insurance and damages every year to those who try to live their lives on the up and up.
So, how do we stop this insanity? Like Peter Parker in the picture - whose tragedy was focusing on his own selfish needs resulting in the loss of his uncle - we aren't recognizing the long term consequences of our actions. I really think this needs to be forefront in our discussions around this stuff. We also need a good dialogue and understanding of the butterfly effect - how one action leads to effecting so many others. It may seem small and insignificant to cheat here and there, but it adds up and changes the system we are part of. And finally, and I know this type of thinking isn't popular amongst Americans, we have to imagine how we can contribute to the commons to mutually benefit (instead of one or two people benefiting, leading to the suffering of others). It's not socialism, it's smarter thinking. Just think of the costs we will save on our taxes alone when we don't have to pay for the inefficiencies of a system full of people trying to cheat it.
We do have great power here. These tools can be used for great things. Solving hunger, poverty, creating peace, boosting economies (in countries where most of the spammer/scammer stuff comes out of), finding cures for bad diseases and all of the other social pitfalls we've created by thinking too short term for our world. So...where do we start?