What a time for techies to be watching TV. Not only do we have HBO’s Silicon Valley, a comedy which derives many of its laughs from decidedly “tech” things (tabs vs. spaces anyone?) but we also have the drama/thriller Mr. Robot, the story of a young gifted hacker, a grudge, and a large conglomerate and everything it touches (warning: spoilers ahead).
What I like about Mr. Robot is how it remains plausible, or at least for the most part grounded in technological truth. Whether it’s characters discussing their preferred Linux Desktop Environments or watching a Stage Fright exploit happen on screen, the technology and jargon hails from this current day and age. And while some of us don’t think twice about booting our work machines off a flash drive every now and then, the show makes sure to highlight how strange that might seem.
Even the main premise of Season 1 was life-like enough to have me worried for a bit. The large conglomerate E-Corp had their datacenters secured, backups on the other side of the world, and offline backups stored in secured warehouses out of town. As far as anyone could tell their records were safe from catastrophe, and could be restored if need be. I admit, I’ve felt comfortable with less in the past. However, this level of redundancy proved to be no match for Eliot and his hacker crew who craftily managed to hack their datacenters while simultaneously destroying the offsite backups, effectively erasing terabytes of data about peoples bank accounts, debts, and property. The ensuing chaos is similar to what I would expect “Fight Club” would have been like had that movie lasted another half hour.
Which got me thinking, how worried should I be? Well for starters, we don’t currently have one massive company that maintains all the financial records (although I’m sure there’s some that would jump at the chance) so that’s comforting on a multitude of levels. But what if we did? The premise of Mr. Robot is that they were able to disable the datacenter and destroy all the information E-Corp held.
What if E-Corp had their business critical applications distributed, not on distributed architecture in the datacenter, but geographically distributed as well? This strategy has been employed by companies leveraging IBM Mainframe technology for years. This way, if they were to lose one datacenter, they could have immediately failed over to the other. This would have the combined effect of keeping their business running while also alerting them to the issue at hand, ideally allowing enough time to ensure security of their information. “But of course!” you say, “they were already launching simultaneous attacks, so what’s another one to knock out each site?” And I must concede, assuming they had found a way to “own” one Sysplex of mainframes, they would most likely be able to conquer subsequent security and setups.
I suppose this also shoots down the next idea of having multiple offline backups? After all, a big enough party who is motivated would be able to destroy a countless number of cold backups as well. So outside of omnipresent data, it seems we may just be doomed to one day be engulfed in total anarchy. Unless of course, there was a new way of doing business, a secure way of recording transactions that might even be able to withstand a targeting of a single company?
Blockchain. It’s been talked about on this site, and across the Internet at large, but can it work to prevent economic Armageddon? Secure ledgers that can be distributed around the world, verified by multiple parties, and by their nature are resistant to tampering…certainly sounds like a plausible solution. While still in it’s infancy, I believe Blockchain has tremendous potential to alter the infrastructure paradigm of its predecessors, similarly to its peer/distributed brethren before it. This could enable smaller companies and giant E-Corp conglomerates alike to achieve a data distribution that’s safe and secure.
For me, one of the worst parts about watching the second season of Mr. Robot was when people were losing their homes because there was no longer a record of them having paid off their mortgages. Maybe in the future even bank patrons will be able to participate as members of a Blockchain, thereby giving them proof of their own assets which can be verified against the banks’ records. I suppose until that day comes, we’ll just have to hang on to our receipts, start printing out our bank statements, and try not to panic if we ever see Rami Malek in Times Square triumphantly raising his hands…
Editors Note – Thanks to first time blogger on this site Chris Weber for his blog post. Chris can be found on Twitter at @c_r_weber where he describes himself as a Brother, friend, Seawolf, jock, geek, IBMer…all at heart.