Saturday, April 14, 2012

Crime and trust

In Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner, the protagonist’s father tells his son that in the end all crime amounts to stealing. If you kill someone, you steal his life from his family. If you commit adultery, you’re stealing a spouse. But in actuality all crime comes down to the destruction of trust - trust between two people and trust within society.

When our neighborhood felt the increase in crime in Washington DC, trust was eroded. There were cries for (and some did) installing cameras to record the area surrounding the owner’s homes in case it captured something useful. Non-profit organizations going door-to-door asking for donations were suspected of ‘casing’ people’s homes. As were legitimate businesses like Verizon who was trying to get people to switch. Someone sitting in his car was also suspect.

The police department recommended that we call them anytime we saw something suspicious - and something suspicious could be anything that made us feel uncomfortable. So some did. It increased police presence which might have had positive results since crime is now waning (or maybe it’s because we gone back to DST.) (Note: The police explained that in a situation where there very little crime someone sitting in a car is just that - someone sitting in a car. But when crime is higher than usual, someone sitting in a car may not be just someone sitting in a car, so some judgment is required.)

Sociologists, economists and political scientists often refer to the overall level of trust in a society as social capital. It is thought to be related to economic growth. As our recent experience shows, trust is pretty fragile. It is easy to destroy and it’s also difficult to rebuild.

The recent news that a virus disguised itself as a Flash Player update is disturbing. The Internet is based on trust (with verification). We are supposed to be able to trust an update from an apparently legitimate source. We know logos are easy to copy and so we may not trust those as much. These logos such as BBB and e-Trust may already have become less meaningful with time.

No article about the virus that I’ve read explained how this virus came to be downloaded. For instance, there are banner ads that sometimes proclaim that my antivirus is out-of-date. Click to update. Yeah, right! Was it a similar ruse?

So what’s next? A virus disguised as an Microsoft update? A Debian linux update with a virus somehow gets buried into a repository? Or even a legitimate software employee paid off to bury a virus in the code of a valid update? At some point the criminal elements might be able to destroy all trust on the Internet. Then it will be time to disconnect.

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