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War of the Worlds, fought in Zeros and Ones

Cyber War is a hot topic once again. It has been covered by the BBC (“Silent War’), and even by TR (Russia Today) which cites Edward Snowden, and Defon. Also CNN, has covered it –scary CNN style!– about attacks on individuals via social media.

Last month, I was asked to cover this topic for an upcoming special feature in LMD Magazine. I found out some disturbing activities, and reality-checks that the public doesn’t seem concerned about. After all, we are busy worrying about how corporations’ databases are being attacked, and personal information stolen, because that’s what the popular news networks latch onto.

“But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs,” noted Senator Michael McCaul last year when calling for cybersecurity legislation.

In his book “@War: The rise of the military-internet complex.” Shane Harris gives us one example of how governments fight a War of the Worlds scenario. The Chinese have been hacking sensitive US databases for some time, but in one such attack, the government initially withheld this information. Possibly so as not to tip-off the Chinese hackers, he says.

This was a de-facto military assault on a military target. And the target? The design plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet in 2007, the so-called ‘fighter to end all fighters,’ that had a price tag of $400 million. It’s well reported today that more than 100 of the world’s militaries indulge in some sort of cyber war tactics. For more on this see Peter Singer’s excellent article in Popular Science.

For this article I interviewed Cornel Ruston, a Sri Lankan-born, California-based network security consultant, who talks about how why all organizations, not just government agencies need to protect their ‘crown jewels’.

The problem is, despite all the fancy communication technologies in our arsenal, we have become sluggish, in the way we communicate with all those who might help thwart cyber war-styled attacks. We tend to put more emphasis on the locks instead. But for every lock, there are a hundred lock-pickers.

If you like a sneak preview of the article, it will be released on Feb 26th.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Disruptive, Social Media, Technology

 

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Lessons from Richard Attenborough

AttenboroughIt was a grey, nondescript September afternoon in London, when we sat down with recording ‘machines’, and microphones, all agog for our victim to walk in.

The victim was Richard Attenborough, someone well known to our class of foreign students at the BBC (whose motto, most appropriately, was/is “Nations shall speak unto Nation“). It was just seven years since Gandhi had been released.

We had practiced the ins and outs of radio production, from managing the heavy tape machine (about as heavy as a small microwave), to splicing, mixing sound effects etc. None of this would have mattered if we didn’t get our interview right. We would have just five minutes of face time.

Mr. Attenborough – I doubt we addressed him as ‘Sir’ Richard– was  extremely gracious, and disarming. This was not what our trainers had prepped us for: the evasive spokespeople, the rude celebrities, and those who intimidate you etc.

What I recall most were two things. Mr. Attenborough patiently listened to my question (about the making of the Gandhi), at times tilting his head to figure out my accent.  Speaking of which, there were no shortage of versions of English and thick accents in that room at the Capital Radio studios, London that day. Before and after me were budding radio hosts from the Seychelles, Malta, Lesotho, and Fiji.

The other thing was how he punctuated each idea with his sweeping arm movements, barely grazing, but totally ignoring the microphone. This is what interviews are supposed to be structured around – conversations, not hardware.He made that easy for us.

Long after the spool tapes gave way to tiny, and barely digital recording devices, it’s still the conversations that matter.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Communications, Social Media

 

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Inconvenient truths about Citizen journalists

Are you rooting for mainstream journalism or the grassroots variety?

How about both? One has the training. The other has the temperament. One has the credibility. The other has access. Mainstream journalism and citizen journalism are shaking hands, and the consequences may be very interesting for the media we consume and our role as potential collaborators.

We typically think of citizen journalists as these accidental reporters –those who in the face of a catastrophic event, grab a cell-phone, and capture a story that would have otherwise never been recorded. We recall the first heartbreaking reports of the 2004 tsunami captured by citizens in Sri Lanka. Commuters, not trained reporters, provided the first grainy videos when terrorist bombed subways and buses in London in 2005. Likewise, the first images of the dramatic ‘splash landing’ of an U.S Airways flight into the Hudson river in Manhattan, New York, were captured by a citizen journalist.

Today, we are witnessing the rise of a new breed of reporters, an ‘accidental profession’ that has begun to turn more professional (‘Pro’) than amateur (‘Am’).

Some ex-journalists and entrepreneurs have spotted opportunities in this space and have begun to create business models, albeit non-profit businesses. One of them, The Uptake (www.theuptake.org),  is a citizen ‘fueled’ news organization. Chuck Olsen, co-founder of The Uptake calls it ‘committing an act of journalism.’ Meaning, going out there and finding the story, not reacting to it.

Mohammed Nabbous, killed in Benghazi, Libya in March 2011, was one of the bravest citizen journos of our time, killed while uploading a story. Check out a video of these last moments at http://bit.ly/LMD0811 In the last part of this video you can sense he is terribly impatient, waiting as a large file uploads from his camera.

“Where is the media?” he asks, rhetorically, with gunfire just outside his door.  It does not strike him that he was “The Media’ –an Am behaving like, and filling the void of, a Pro.

Today many mainstream news organizations have embedded elements of citizen journalism, often training their reporters to use the tools that the Ams take for granted. BBC, for instance is training its reporters to use iPhone apps to file stories. This month, The New York Times opened up a story for citizen participation in making sense of a boatload of email records (24,199) from Sarah Palin. “We’re asking readers to help us identify interesting and newsworthy e-mails, people and events that we may want to highlight.

You could find a broader discussion of this evolving Pro-Am model in an upcoming article.

 

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“Open exchange” on Twitter gets boost, but will we tweet not talk?

I was on the phone with my sister-in-law, a teacher in Sri Lanka, who complained that many young people are losing their ability to hold conversations, just while I was reading something at BBC, where the co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams states that Twitter intends it to facilitate an “open exchange of information.” I take it he means more dialog, better communication.

She: These people have way too much information in their heads and on their phones that they don’t communicate.

He: “Our goal at Twitter is to be a force for good”

She: “They don’t know how to write anymore, ..all this texting.”

He: “I think it will be how you get personal, customised information from every entity you care about, from your local café to your government, from your politician to your friends and family.”

I know we all see different parts of the anatomy of this elephant in the room. I promote micro-blogging as a way to connect the dots, and integrate with other forms of communication. But not at the expense of analog or ‘old media’ tools. Sometimes, the best way to chat is to pick up the phone, or walk over to the person in the next room or cubicle.

My eternal challenge to communicators is: When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Writing fires up different circuits in the brain. I subscribe to the idea that ‘writing is decision-making‘ with a specific person or narrow audience in mind. Not just sending off random thoughts in 140 characters. I love what Mr. Williams’ company has opened up. I just hope it makes people better communicators, not  message generators.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Communications, Technology

 

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Quotes for the week ending 22 Dec, 2007

“Forgive me for being an old fart, but today’s “social networks” look to me like yesterday’s online services.”

Doc Searls, on why he is not joining a debate on whether brands should build their own, or join social networks.

“If I were a brand or agency, I would be down at the picket lines seeing if some of this top story-telling talent was available for freelance work.”

Joe Marchese, in Online Spin, on the impact of the writers’ strike, and what ad agencies should be considering.

“Democrats are at least 10% more likely to do just about anything involving social technologies. The Republicans are the opposite — they’re a lot LESS likely to participate.”

Josh Bernoff, on Charlene Li’s blog at Forrester Research, commenting on the social media profile of presidential candidates in the U.S. elections.

“At the end of A Bug’s Life, the main character, Flick, finally convinces all the ants that they have to stand up to the grasshoppers who’ve kept them repressed for years …It’s what happens when we all have a voice, and distribution, and the ability to get together and say something.”

Chris Brogan, co-founder of Podcamp, about how Social Media is a Bug’s Life.

“Googlepedia is perhaps a more direct rival to Larry Sanger’s Citizendium, which aims to build a more authoritative Wikipedia-type resource under the supervision of vetted experts.”

Commenter Ben Vershbow of IF (The institute of the future of the book) analyzing knol, Google’s answer to Wikipedia, that was launched this week.

The word “weblog” celebrates the 10th anniversary of it being coined on 17 December 1997.

BBC, on the birthday of the word that got all this started!

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2007 in Social Media

 

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