An open letter to five young men who just might change the entire world
One of my sources tells me the five of you will focus on computer security for your “Make A Difference” project at your high school. Congrats! Of course you may find it difficult to volunteer computer security at a local organization. “Password strength” isn’t a big concern at a homeless shelter, if you catch my drift.
But hey, a local chapter of the American Legion or VFW or DAV certainly needs help! Those old men barely know what to do with a new-fangled cell phone. Perhaps you can offer to check the security of their phones and disinfect whatever boolean plagues you might find. You don’t need to give a speech or anything — just ask to set up a table where you can help them out at one of their regular events. Coordinate it through your school and it’ll be a no-brainer.
Trust me: old geezers need help with their “voiceboxes.” We’re talking about men who sent their first email in WWII by telegram…
After you wrap up the volunteer work, then comes your “original project.” Wiktionary.org defines “original” as an adjective for “newly created; fresh, different; pioneering.”
“Too few people do too much thinking for too many zombies” in computer security. We need more people to do real thinking. We need people like the five of you.
In other words … if you’re going to do a computer security project, then get off the beaten path. I’m going to write five words that can lead you to “Make A Difference” far beyond your high school … far beyond your state … far beyond U.S. borders.
You see, today’s youth often think about “password strength.” And they get it all wrong. Fledglings caution their classmates on the economic impact of digital crime. And they get it all wrong. Adolescents ponder the threat of hackers in today’s society. And they get it all wrong.
Why do so many people your age “get it all wrong”? It’s because you listen to so many adult bigwigs who get it all wrong! It’s because you take advice from so many adult researchers who get it all wrong! And it’s because you believe the marketing hype from so many companies that get it all wrong!
If you heed my five words, gentlemen, the five of you will “Make A Difference” to the entire world.
“Become critics of computer security.” Five words for five young men.
I’ve been a critic in the computer security industry since 1988 — back before your parents were in high school. I’ve exposed many charlatans over the decades. I coined the term “False Authority Syndrome” to describe people who only think they’re computer security experts.
This world needs young people who can open their eyes to this industry’s flaws … and who can open the eyes of others. This world needs young people like the five of you.
Oh, and I hacked antivirus software before you were born, just to expose the entire world’s blind trust in computer security products.
To this day, I remain one of the most respected (and reviled!) critics in the computer security industry. Look at my “paltry” 900 followers on Twitter and you’ll discover some of the most powerful names in computer security. Followers like Eugene Kaspersky of Kaspersky Labs and his security director, Costin Raiu. Followers like Mikko Hyppönen of F-SECURE and Akamai CSO Andy Ellis. Followers like White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt and many other big names you’ve never heard of.
All this, despite the fact I took a 9-year hiatus over the death of my wife. Such is the lasting power of a critic respected around the globe.
I’m not alone in this world. There’s Attrition.org, a group long famous for exposing charlatans. There’s InfoSec Taylor Swift, who earned international fame for exposing fallacies in computer security. (She sings songs, too!) Plus some names of critics you’ve probably never heard of.
But there’s a problem. This world needs more critics.
We need young people who can see the real problem with password strength. We need a youthful skepticism of what “cyber war” means. And — most importantly — we need fresh voices to cut through the marketing hype so today’s youth can understand digital crime in its proper context.
We need people like the five of you. Adrien. Ben. Brian. David. Michael. Young people who can open their eyes to this industry’s flaws … and go on to open the eyes of others.
You could form a team! Let’s say you call yourselves “5 in 9th,” get it? I see the domain is available, as are the Twitter & YouTube accounts. You could sit down at a roundtable, each of you with a camera pointed at you, and film yourselves being skeptical about the day’s topics. You could have a “This is for Tammy!” segment where you boil down a complex issue “so even a girl who doesn’t care about computer security can understand it.” (Please boil it down better than this guy does.) You can also do a “breakdown analysis” of computer hacking in movies or in the news:
“Dude, I don’t know about you? But my history teacher didn’t say a thing about computer viruses when we studied the recent Arab-Israeli conflicts…”
Know this: being a critic is no easy task. You’ll be held to a much higher standard than the rest of the computer security industry. They plagiarize the works of others yet will scream if you do the same. They pirate software yet will scream “EULA!” and “ToS!” if you dare to critique their products or services. They refuse to cite sources and they use anecdotes as “data” yet they’ll scream if you do the same.
Let me guess — your teachers will demand you cite your sources and use verifiable data. Am I right? Yeah, well, it sucks to be you. Because that’s not really a big deal in the computer security industry. In fact, an award-winning computer security expert named Dan Erwin teaches a course on how to make up stories & lie to your boss so you can get ahead in both your job and in your computer security career…
Some of the people you critique will threaten to sue you … while others will call the principal to get you expelled from school. They might even call a federal agency to report you as a terrorist. (That last one really does happen but it’s rare.) So, being a critic isn’t exactly the most fun you can have in computer security.
As critics, you’ll start to notice how gullible your friends & family are. You’ll feel an urge to speak up when a substitute teacher spouts total gibberish. You’ll want to hit the “reply all” button when a family member gets duped by a hoax email. When your mom yells at you for making your uncle look bad … eh, just remember my mom yelled at me, too.
Incredible job offers await those who hone their criticism skills. You could be a future Chief Security Officer, or a future Director of Engineering, or a future Cyber Warfare Crew Commander…
As critics, you’ll build up a small but powerful fanbase … plus a small but annoying crackpot base. Conspiracy theorists, reality deniers, drug users, and every charlatan you haven’t yet debunked. All of them will cajole you to advance their agendas at your expense. Movie critics deal with it; so can you.
Oh, and the chicks! I’m not joking. It happens to every man who gets popular for his intelligence & wit. Girls will start to flock around you. If you launch a YouTube channel now, you’ll be taking cheerleaders and runway models to the senior prom—
—you know, I probably should get back on track. Where was I? Ah. Yes.
On the bright side? Incredible job offers await those who hone their criticism skills. You could be a future Chief Security Officer at Akamai. You could be a future Director of Engineering at Cisco. You could be a future Cyber Warfare Crew Commander in the
CIA U.S. Air Force…
Here in the computer security industry, “too few people do too much thinking for too many zombies.” We need more people to do real thinking. We need people like the five of you. Adrien. Ben. Brian. David. Michael.
Hey, look. If you just want to be an infosec rock star, well, more power to you. If you just want to slack off like so many other “cookie cutter” computer security experts, well, more power to you. But if you want to “Make A Difference” in the world, then become a critic.
Join us. We’re waiting to welcome you. (And I’m serious about the chicks.)