Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Volkswagen and the Quandary of Hidden Code

Though the media may be inclined to shine a spotlight on Volkswagen and its systemic rigging of emission control systems the public record shows that the practice of secretly modifying technology to enable questionable features is fairly widespread. For example, accessing computers using hidden code is a mainstay of NSA surveillance and they’ve gotten so adept at it that plans have been drawn up to industrialize attacks against millions of machines at a time. And while federal officials and tech CEOs quibble over cryptographic back doors there are spies currently relying on hidden code to break into networks all over the planet.

Documents provided by Edward Snowden reveal classified intelligence operations like BULLRUN and the SIGINT Enabling project, industry-wide campaigns to undermine cyber security by inserting stealthy technical modifications.

Make no mistake, this is evidence that the tech industry hopes you’ll forget. They’re focused on maintaining earnings after being caught collaborating with security services. The execs would much rather frame themselves as our protectors rather than willing participants who subvert their products and conspire with authorities on a first-name basis. Hence there is a degree of theater to the debate playing itself out in the public arena. The media is, to an extent, complicit.

Tech CEOs may complain vocally to President Xi about the prospect of installing back doors in products destined for markets in China. But, honestly, can you blame Chinese leaders for wanting the same sort of benefits that tech companies have already provided to U.S. spies? The sheer size of the market in China may lead the Silicon Valley crowd to comply. Just ask Boeing, it recently signed a deal to sell 300 aircraft to China for $38 billion.

Rest assured that there is a way forward. Hidden code thrives in the dark. This means that transparency and sunlight are appropriate remedies. Specifically, commercial products should be open source so that anyone can inspect them. As Columbia law professor Eben Moglen astutely observed, “If Volkswagen knew that every customer who buys a vehicle would have a right to read the source code of all the software in the vehicle, they would never even consider the cheat, because the certainty of getting caught would terrify them.”

In addition government subversion programs that implement hidden code need to be outlawed. The tech industry —itself a direct descendent of the defense sector— cannot, or rather will not, fight this battle on its own. The covert arm of U.S. intelligence has a long and storied history of toppling foreign regimes. It doesn’t matter how much ruckus Apple’s CEO makes in public. Do you honestly think Tim Cook could resist this kind of pressure any more than Costas Tsalikidis or Salvador Allende? There are subtle and inexorable currents running under the surface of the body politic. They’re driven by forces much bigger than any one company. Look further and pathways to the American Deep State will emerge.

But even these measures aren’t sufficient. Secret components can masquerade as accidental bugs which are plausibly deniable. For example, it’s been documented that Microsoft had a clandestine arrangement to provide the NSA with early information on zero-day vulnerabilities. Therefore the executives of Silicon Valley need to be held liable for shoddy implementation so that companies have incentives to treat bugs as the catastrophes that they are rather than as a negative externality. Formally verified code, mathematically proven to be free of defects, is an emerging reality.

There is no shortage of talent or resources to tackle this problem. The major impediment preventing engineers from making significant headway on eliminating hidden code is skewed priorities both on behalf of corporate leadership and the political class which serves them. Hidden code represents control, it represents power. We need to take that power back.

More articles by:

Bill Blunden is a journalist whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs and a member of the California State University Employees Union, Chapter 305.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail