How do we solve and prevent cyber crimes?

open source solves cyber crime
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In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, I cannot help wondering what it is the role open source and open education have in global or national security measures.

The events in Boston hit me hard. Running the marathon has been a dream for mine. There are personal connections: a relative was running for the first time in the Boston Marathon and had crossed the finish line four minutes before the first explosion. And, there are my connections to Watertown, Boston, and Cambridge; some of the victims; and a rehabilitation hospital in Boston that will help some of the victims. Then, there is the act of terrorism itself.

The bombs reminded me of the IRA in London when I lived there with my husband who is from the UK. The bombs also reminded me of what I had learned about terrorism from working for the airline industry (ground staff) both in the US and in the UK, particularly with El Al Israel Airlines (which has the most stringent airline security procedures in the world). And it reminded me, unfortunately, of my personal connections to 9/11, the airline industry in Boston, and to my son who has no knowledge of that tragedy or of a pre-Google, pre-YouTube world (he's 7 years old).

Terrorism, violence, tragedies, and cybercrime are unfortunately part and parcel of society today. Some of us would perhaps wish that Lois Lowry's children's fictional book, The Giver (1993), of a utopian future society where violence, terrorism, crime, poverty, and other issues are a thing of the past would ring true; where everything is under control. Where there is no war or fear of pain. Where there are no choices. Yet the reality, of course, is that with digital technology and globalization no one or place is immune from a cyberattack, terrorism, or gun violence. Still, we have a choice with using proprietary or open systems. More importantly, we have a choice on whether to prepare ourselves and our children for a digital future that includes digital security measures and protocols.

Australia gives us an example on how to include security measures and protocols in a school curriculum. Its ICT (information and communicationtechnology capability) school curriculum addresses how to apply strategies for determining and protecting the security of digital information as well as the risks associated with online environments. The ICT curriculum also addresses personal security protocols and how to identify and implement them. 

Other countries, such as the US, which lack a similar curriculum might want to take heed.

While Australia offers guidance on how to adopt digital security measures and protocols in public schools, there are other security measures and protocols that could and should be addressed. Avoiding language offensive to particular groups of people is one security measure, but Eugene Kaspersky and others have warned that it's only a matter of time before terrorists adopt state-sponsored style attacks to target countries' critical infrastructure.

Within a little over a week of the Boston Marathon bombings, hackers from the Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for taking control of the Associated Press' Twitter account and sending a false tweet about explosions in the White House that briefly sent US financial markets tumbling. The damage: $136.5 billion of the S&P 500 index's value before markets recovered.

Private proprietary systems, such as Twitter, are not only often vulnerable to cyber attacks but they also jeopardize global or national security by allowing unfettered extremism to flourish and for not monitoring grave infractions. If an individual were to witness or be privy to a cyberattack, where would they report it?

Cybercrime lacks a digital or landline equivalent to the emergency 911 telephone number. Local law enforcement officers must encourage citizens to be alert and to report suspicious behavior but what happens when such behavior crosses local, regional, or national boundaries? The murkiness of cybercrime means the general public is often unaware which authority or agency is responsible for investigating it.

New York City's See Something, Say Something initiative has been hugely successful within the city for combatting crime, but outside of it? At least, however, New York City's security system takes a preventative or hacker approach to crime rather than a forensic, reactionary approach to crime by encouraging the public's participation but is this enough to stem the amount of cybercrime in the future?

An investment in the next generation of hackers, cyber counterintelligence and cyber defense officers is desperately needed.

At the moment, Davidson Academy in Reno, NV is the only free public day school in the US for profoundly gifted students (those who score in the 99.9% percentile on IQ or equivalent test scores). Taylor Wilson, a Davidson Academy student, built a nuclear fusion reactor at 14-years-old. His family specifically moved to Reno so he could attend Davidson Academy and work with atomic physicists, take upper-division math classes, and play with uranium.

Again at the moment, there is no federal mandate to accommodate profoundly gifted students such as Wilson or giftedness in general. Many states, including Massachusetts, have no mandates or funding for gifted education. One of the reasons is that many people assume that gifted kids and especially profoundly gifted kids like Taylor Wilson do not need any accommodations made. Others, however, contend that gifted kids are underserved. They claim that profoundly gifted kids like Taylor Wilson are the most underserved in the US and that we're placing the country at risk when we deny them an appropriate education; such a claim is entirely plausible when a teen knows how to build a dirty bomb or knows more about digital technology than most adults do. 

Around the world, the need for a generation of hackers, cyber counterintelligence, and cyber defense officers is just as warranted as the need to invest in gifted education. When we don't invest in gifted kids, they often underachieve, become disillusioned with school and society, and often resort to crime, including terrorism. We have witnessed the results, many times over by now.

Perhaps a simple step to start would be with the Department of Education's Race to the Top initiative. Perhaps it should be a Race to Share instead? Put simply, billions of dollars are being spent on Race to the Top reforms that has the potential to transform our schools for decades to come, but if the money doesn't include anything to foster open source and a generation of hackers, cyber counterintelligence, cyber defense, or gifted education that might prevent future terrorist or tragedies, then it will leave us vulnerable and susceptible and our future at risk.

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madmod's picture

As a retired high school math teacher who burned out after 37 years, I'm still very conscious of the lack of fairness that has pervaded public education. (Fairness in budgets, teacher training, and courses offered, testing, etc.) I still believe in education and teaching and I still believe it could be whole lot better than it is.

I once had a student who asked "Am I entitled to an education in the public schools?" (The student was asking in the fairness context of noticing that the special needs students were attended to a lot, and that the regular curriculum of the course was taking a hit so it probably wouldn't complete by the end of the school year. It didn't.) I responded "Under the law you are entitled to an education, but you're not necessarily entitled to a good one." I suggested that not being a special needs student required that she take more charge of her own education to fill the gaps I couldn't supply. I mentioned that regular students are put behind the special needs students when educational services are delivered. In most cases it comes down to money.

All that seemed really unfair then and it still does. I saw the tail wag the dog on budgets, staffing, student placement, etc.

So the bottom line for me is that fairness in education needs to be fully re-established. A strong look at priorities and entitlements needs to be made at the legislative levels to even the educational balance. There always should be programs for the gifted as well. Teachers should receive full feedback about their students after state mandated tests have been graded so that instruction can be improved--didn't happen in my district. Policies such as "No Child Left Behind" should be scrapped because they cause everyone to be left behind along with huge waste of scarce funds and reduced instruction time.

Last, schools should get over their nonsense about avoiding open source software solutions and the use of Linux in their computers. Boot up a computer with any free, long-term support distribution of Linux and you're allowing education to maximize with the students and teachers who use it along with a stable, trouble-free environment. Why is this computer environment so hard to implement? Is this a simple lesson our nation can't learn?

The world is made of people to be loved and things to be used. Let's not confuse the two.

wivenhoe's picture
Open Source Champion

Thanks very much. Your points are well taken and appreciated. I'm trying to refrain myself from going on about NCLB and some of the other points on the state of education in this country. I couldn't agree with you more.


MicheleMcN's picture
Open Enthusiast

The DOD has expressed concern about the United States losing ground in the area of STEM expertise in the workforce and academia. Other countries are producing more engineers & scientists than the US to the point that the lack of a STEM trained workforce/populace is becoming a threat to national security. A generation of hackers needs to be fostered just to be able to protect ourselves.

wivenhoe's picture
Open Source Champion

Yes, we do need to invest heavily in STEM and a generation of hackers. However, this investment needs to be met with an equal or heavier investment in gifted education, in my opinion. Without it, we're treading water and not walking the walk. Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the emphasis on standardized testing have contributed to the problem and negatively effected the US's ability to increase STEM expertise or a generation of hackers.