Electronic Predator

The Internet has radically transformed the way people live their lives and conduct business. If someone from the 1960s was able to see into the present, what the world would be like in another 60 years, it would be utterly unrecognizable. Even in the last fifteen years, people’s lives have changed dramatically. Someone who foresaw such things might even be seen as mad. The consequences of these drastic changes have been both positive and negative. On the one hand, new technologies have solved certain problems, eased communication across distances, made localized censorship harder, etc. These technologies have been created mostly with good intentions, to bring about such effects by creating widespread connectivity and resilient networks which are hard to censor. Children can talk to their elderly parents on the far side of the world; businesses can find and scale markets much more rapidly than before; dissidents can spread information much more easily than when they had to rely on typewriters and manual distribution. People can even talk to those of other cultures and languages, for instance by using online translation tools.

But technology always has a downside, and that downside is what the book “Electronic Predator” is about.

The very technologies that delight can also destroy.

Think of Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment”: the fateful axe can be used to build cities and do great good, but it can also be used to kill, destroy, and do great evil. The axe itself is neutral, serving as a tool for either kind of purpose. The Internet is similar: while there are particular kinds of use which are encouraged by its architecture, it is also widely open to use for good or evil, depending on the motives and goals of its users. The question is simply in whose hands power ends up.

Information on the Internet is easily manipulated, and disinformation can spread easily, with few checks on its spread. On the other hand, measures designed to prevent disinformation can also be used by malicious actors as a shield against exposure. From the start of the 2000s, there has been a growth in demand for private cybersecurity services, and their role has increasingly expanded from the prevention of technical attacks to the protection or manipulation of information. These services have sometimes evolved into private secret services, carrying out a role similar to that pursued by the secret services of states. These services engage in strategic and tactical activities against a wide array of adversaries, from business competitors to whistleblowers, on behalf of private individuals or corporations. It is in the hands of these private security services that technologies related to the Internet are becoming a very serious weapon.

The recent documentary “The Great Hack”, about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, provides a snapshot of these activities. This is just a small glimpse into the darker side of the Internet. We recommend that readers of this article view the documentary to get a sense of the present environment and opportunity-structure.

This book is extremely important for every one of the billions of people who have access to the Internet.

This book is a warning, a kind of encyclopedia of the Internet of the 21st century, which introduces the reader to an entire field of dangers they may encounter, which carry immense risks of reputational damage and financial bankruptcy.

Almost any potential adversary now has access to the Internet. It is already well-known that people can be recruited into terrorism through interaction on messenger software or social media. The borders between the virtual and real world are then porous: some of these people will go on to carry out real attacks in schools, shopping malls, and so on. Also, nobody knows whether the person or organization they encounter online is everything they seem. Actors can have a concealed background or a hidden motive. 

This book is a valuable work of popular science, whether for laymen, experts, specialists, or scholars in fields such as criminology, criminalistics, sociology, philosophy, and psychology. It provides a journey into the dark corners of the Internet, without the risk entailed by exploring these oneself.

Dr. Oleg Maltsev, the scientific director of the Information Security Institute, has written this book based partly on his own experience. In the period 2013–18, Dr. Maltsev was himself targeted by malicious actors using the negative potential of the Internet to target both himself and his companies. Dr. Maltsev was able to counter these attacks extremely effectively, and to neutralize the impact so that the attackers achieved no result. Dr. Maltsev now seeks to share with others his experience in uncovering and countering online threats



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