On a recent driving trip, my wife and I became immersed in the audio version of one of Tom Clancy’s last novels titled, “Threat Vector.” Without giving away too much of the plot, a Chinese super-geek villain has hatched a plan to hack into our most secure networks and blackmail people with their darkest secrets to subversively cause chaos and disruption for the American government.
While most good authors have devious ways of thinking like a criminal, Clancy does an exceptional job of crafting this storyline as a plausible threat.
For many of us, our reputation is one of the most important aspects of our lives. It’s central to everything we do.
Every time a TV courtroom drama plays out, whether it’s a trial featuring Eliot Spitzer, Martha Stewart, Clarence Thomas, or Monica Lewinsky, we instantly identify with the most embarrassing pieces of the testimony because it could easily be us. We are all terminally human, with enough of our own character flaws to make us the center character of a juicy reality show.
Recent revelations about the NSA PRISM program make this kind of paranoia even more justifiable. Virtually any person, put under a microscope, can be threatened with his or her own character flaws.
But an even greater danger comes from knowing personal weaknesses, and in most cases, it’s the person or thing we care about most. People seeking leverage always want to know the one button they can push, and whether it’s a child, parent, valuable possession, or their reputation, one well-crafted threat can be instant blackmail.
In much the same way Google’s personalized marketing system delivers targeted ads, an intimidation engine will be capable of delivering highly targeted threats.
As cyber crime escalates, we run the risk of having our social structures deteriorate into invisible mafia-style communities with the blackmailers ruling the blackmailees, and few, if any, capable of understanding the behind-the-scenes turf wars?