Data like digital water…

There’s an old saying in some martial arts systems that “water seeks its own level”, i.e. no matter what you do to contain it, route it, control it or prevent its movement, water is forever drawn by gravity toward sea level.  Simple as it is, a few molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, over time water will generally overcome, burst through, dissolve or exploit its way through every fissure, failure, crack, container or barrier.  Whether it is over seconds or centuries, the philosophical view goes, water will find its way out to the endless open sea.

This old chestnut crossed my mind during my koryu bujutsu (classical Japanese martial arts) class this weekend and I realized it solved a problem I struggled with all last week, which was, after a week like this, how do I pick a topic?!

(BTW I don’t normally say this explicitly, but actually read all the linked stories in the section below, or at least read the headlines of each.  It will put this post in a much clearer context.)

With so much fodder in a single week, from DEFCON’s social engineering extravaganza to the Wikileaks debacle to the posting of 100 million Facebook profiles gathered from the open source, it felt like the world was finally smacked in the face enough times at once to notice what some of us have been studying, struggling with and occasionally shouting from the rooftops for nearly a decade, which is that the traditional problems of intelligence, privacy protection, law enforcement and even personal safety have all been turned on their head.

The problem is not “I can’t get the information I need because it isn’t out there”.  The problem is now that it IS out there. A lot of it, most of it, and possibly in the near future, darn near all of it. What the classified data leaks, and the corporate breaches, and lost laptops and eBay’ed hard drives and hacking contests are finally beginning to convey to mainstream awareness is that data is becoming digital water. This includes governments’ information, financial information, corporate information, and your and my personal identity, social- and professional-network information.

Whether by accident or design, whether through architectural flaws in the construction of the storehouse or intentional holes drilled in the containers, in a completely networked world, information is constantly seeping, condensing, evaporating and ever so slowly but inexorably wearing away at the systems and structures designed to contain it.  More dramatically than water, as the Wikileaks and Facebook episodes highlight (you can download the entire contents of what was harvested in either case with a simple google search), once digital water finds a crack in its containment, it can flow to a new “level” (e.g. a hacker chat room or an anonymous FTP server) and eventually to the open sea/public ‘Net with sometimes-breathtaking speed and impact.

Some will decry this as poisonous, others will applaud it as the road to utopia, some will try to retard it, others will seek to further and hasten it.  I expect I’ll post separately on what I think it all means (it’s too much for one sitting) but of this I am absolutely certain – there is no stopping it.  There is no putting the genie back in the bottle.  Digital water will seek its own level, and there are people out there, from industry watchers to spies to private eyes to health insurance companies that are already sponging up the trickles and dribbles.  Get ready for the flood, this is just the beginning.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are mine alone, and do not represent the views, policies or positions of Cyveillance, Inc. or its parent, QinetiQ-North America.  I speak here only for myself and no postings made on this blog should be interpreted as communications by, for or on behalf of, Cyveillance (though I may occasionally plug the extremely cool work we do and the fascinating, if occasionally frightening, research we openly publish.)


6 Responses

  1. Nice analogy Eric, and great blog post today.

  2. […] pretty good framework for most of the things that interest me, so I’m just taking what started as one post (then a bunch) and moving it to a kind of running thread through the conversation.  (Also, […]

  3. […] for a moment to another core focus of this blog (i.e. the “Data Like Digital Water” meme), I came across this – as yet anyway – little publicized data […]

  4. […] going to get a lot harder.  From the intentional  wiki-leaking to the inadvertent disclosure, the Digital Water is pushing and probing, finding its way out the cracks and crevices.  I suppose I take some […]

  5. […] in the world does any of this have to do with the (somewhat intermittent) “Digital Water” meme I’m supposed to be so focused on and my obsession with how people will, and do, react to a […]

  6. […] affair – and more specifically this piece in the Guardian – were such a terrific display of the Digital Water concept and “a world awash in data” that I couldn’t resist, despite my current schedule.  This […]

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