The bread knife blunder

SOCIETY has a curious inability to differentiate between tools and the people who use them. Researchers have identified the heuristics behind this and yet we continue to make the mistake. Japanese electronics manufacturer Sony is recovering from a crippling attack on its Playstation Network gaming service. Some irresponsible articles in the press have pointed to the fact that Amazon's EC2 cloud services were used in the attack - as if Amazon is enabling hackers. It isn't.

The same logical fallacy is used in the piracy argument where lawyers for big software companies, music labels and film studios target the platforms used by pirates, such as Bittorrent and other peer-to-peer services. They honestly believe that content pirates are criminals and that they can disable them by getting rid of applicable tools. So far, so bad.

In reality piracy is driven by convenience. Apple showed this to be the case when it launched the iTunes Music Store and proved to record labels that people will pay for music and download it if the option exists. Convenient beats free.

In other cases, pirates do what they do because the content they are accessing is stupidly not made available in their territories and there is no other way for them to access it.

Whether or not this legitimises them breaking the law is a separate argument - my point is that the problem of piracy has little if anything to do with the tools used by pirates.

Societal phenomena like pornography, piracy and hacking are not affected by availability. Hackers will always find tools, even if they make them themselves. You could get eTV to stop showing porn, in which case viewers would turn to the internet or elsewhere to get their hands on it.

Bread knives can, and have, been used to stab and kill people. I've never heard of a judge suggesting that bread knife manufacturers be prosecuted or otherwise chastised for this.

Of course, bread knives are more often used for cutting bread. If they were used in murders as regularly as guns there might be a greater outcry against them, but that still wouldn't validate the approach. Bread knives would still be useful tools for those of us not using them as weapons.

Censorship and embargoes are archaic mechanisms that never worked, but now just make their supporters look stupid too. As the saying goes: guns don't kill people, people kill people.

In the case of the Sony, hack attackers would have used any cloud platform, connected computer network or other resources to pull off the attack. The problem is the attack itself, and why it was planned.

Sony has reversed its policies on open source and working with online communities. In the past the company has been found guilty of spying on its own users and planting software on computers to do so. Sony itself has been guilty of hacking and the target of much resentment from users of its services that are savvy enough to understand the company's actions.

The reason it was targeted in this latest attack may or may not have anything to do with the actions I've listed above - but they are better places to look for the problem than Amazon's cloud services or, for that matter, any other tool that could have been used in the attack.

In his book The Tipping Point, author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell says: "The world, as much as we want it to, does not accord with our intuition."

It might look like eTV and Amazon EC2 are the problem - but they just aren't.

 - Fin24

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