In my youth, there was a movie called Forbidden Planet. It was a good movie. It was about a world that had been created by a race of super geniuses millennia earlier: the Krell. They had died out. They had become too dependent on their advanced technology Their technology had survived; they had not.
For some reason, they had installed a kill switch on their equipment. All a human had to do was press a lever. Why they had done this was not clear. But they did. The scientist who ran their technology ordered one of the others to throw the switch. The person did. Then the scientist told them they had 24 hours to get off the planet before it blew up. It was the ultimate “get out of Dodge” scenario.
The plot made no sense. Why install a kill switch? Sadly, the following plot does make sense: anti-piracy technology.
Software designers are building kill switches into their programs. We install these programs onto to our computers. The people who designed them can control our computers’ use of these programs. They can kill them.
The argument is that they can kill unauthorized software. It’s anti-piracy. But the policy installs a booby trap on our computers.
The word is that Microsoft is going to install a kill switch on Windows 8.
Problem: Microsoft is not known for writing hacker-free code.
For over a decade, people have discussed the idea that Microsoft could use the kill switch technology to kill bootleg or counterfeit versions of its OS. I’m sure the company would employ the code to kill counterfeits if it is confident it could get away with it and confident it wouldn’t be bricking perfectly good systems left and right, thus finding itself in a legal entanglement and a public relations nightmare.
You all know the company has had meetings about this and no engineers have been able to guarantee that it would work as advertised.
This backlash fear will not deter a hacker who just wants to have fun. It will not discourage a foreign belligerent who wants to disrupt the US infrastructure. The game changes quick when this capability falls into the wrong hands.
One must assume that this global consideration is on the minds of the enemies of the state since President Obama has openly discussed how his “Internet Kill Switch” plan is a solid safety precaution if the Web is attacked. Shutting down the Web, in itself, seems like the ultimate attack. Just as killing a man because he has the flu is not a cure, killing the Internet is not a solution to anything.
Who will be able to throw the switch?
Kill switch legislation keeps bring introduced into the Senate. It has not been passed by the House or Senate, but Obama wants it. If Microsoft complies voluntarily, the legislation need not be signed into law. Over time, most PCs will have the kill switch built in.
Then, one fine day, we turn into the Krell.
The cyberwars are real. Software firms should not make it easier for our enemies to defeat us.