Author: Andrea Castillo

Andrea Castillo is a research associate at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and PhD student in economics at GMU. She received a BS in Economics and Political Science from Florida State University. She is interested in the ways in which culture, psychology, technology, and media influence decision-making and social systems (and vice versa).

The feds suck at everything: cybersecurity edition

I’ve got two new posts at Medium today detailing just how bad the G men fail at information security. They both analyze the President’s recent “cybersecurity modernization proposal” that he revealed last week and is expected to expand upon during tonight’s State of the Union address. (More like State of the Disunion address, amirite guys?)

The proposal is as bad as you’ve no doubt come to expect.

One large part of the initiative would enact the spirit of the wildly-unpopular CISPA legislation through a watered-down executive proposal. Our worldly planners in Washington propose to strengthen the nation’s cybersecurity by coercing private organizations to fork over even more private data about our online activities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

There’s just one big problem, apart from the normal civil liberties concerns–the federal government’s IT systems have suffered from a staggering increase in data breaches and cybersecurity failures despite years of internal information-sharing and billions in cybersecurity investments.

Here’s a chart, based on new research by me and Eli Dourado at the Mercatus Center.


From the article:

While cybersecurity vulnerabilities and data breaches remain a considerable problem in the private sector as well as the public sector, policies that failed to protect the federal government’s own information security are unlikely to magically work when applied to private industry. The federal government’s own poor track record of increasing data breaches and exposures of personally identifiable information render its systems a dubious safehouse for the huge amounts of sensitive data affected by the proposed legislation.

The second piece looks at the portion of the proposal that would criminalize a broad expanse of innocuous online activities under the guise of “fighting cybercrime.”

President Obama proposes to expand federal law enforcement authority to reclassify cybercrime under federal “racketeering” laws, which drastically reduce the burden of proof needed to charge an individual with a crime, while expanding the already-controversial and aggressively-applied Computer Fraud Abuse Act (CFAA) to include the mere sharing of unauthorized information–like emailing a password or retweeting a link.

I write:

If the new White House proposal is applied as haphazardly and aggressively as the CFAA has been in the past, there is a real fear that whitehat hackers’ normal activities—like emailing each other information about password leaks and security vulnerabilities—could be trumped up into criminal convictions for no reason but the zeal of a new foolhardy War on Whatever.

The gradual development of this Cyber Police State would have chilling effects on online collaboration and innovation—and the rest of us would get left in the digital dust.

And that’s bad, mm’kay.

Check them both out.

Not that kind of bonfire of the vanities

Hoo boy, is that Lena Dunham a laugh riot or what? The lifelong paragon of wholesome living has upped the ante of revealing Millennial self-expression with her latest round of oversharing buried within the pages of her latest offering, Not That Kind of Girl.

The novel at first appeared to underwhelm expectations and strain the sweet $3.7 million deal extended by its proud publisher, Random House. Dulledbut encouraging!reviews floated with little fanfare upon its September release before some good old-fashioned class war redirected observers’ attentions to the more pressing injustice of Dunham’s mercilessly exploitative book tour labor practices. But the favorable comparisons to fellow Great New Yorker Woody Allen quickly proved unfortunate.

Somehow, the celebrated cultural critics of the New York literary world missed the learned Dunham’s candid confessions of bawdry youthful predation. While her trendy regret-sex-cum-“rape” by a mustachioed Oberlin College Republican detailed in Chapter 6 stimulated a flurry of vicarious clucking from the sisters of perpetual grievance, disturbing passages in which Dunham describes a strange, manipulative obsession with her six-year-younger sister, Grace, received no mention in the mainstream press.  It took the muckracking of unsavory radical right-wing fringe outfits like the National Review to bring these intimate disclosures to public light.

Lest the Dunham family lawyer sees fit to threaten this humble blogger with a taste of Yankee justice, as is apparently the proper practice of the day, I’ll let the self-appointed voice of our generation speak for herself:

“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.

“Yes,” she told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.”

I looked at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Web, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.

“Does her vagina look like mine?”

“I guess so,” my mother said. “Just smaller.”

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist, and when I saw what was inside I shrieked. “My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things that I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been such a success.

Don’t act like you didn’t regularly plan elaborate pranks by inserting fun surprises into your precious cavities at the tender age of one, you Judgy Judys. Their mother was supervising, it’s cool.


Institutional breakdown in a time of Ebola

So, how is everybody feeling about Ebola today?

If exponential projections are to be believed (and the mealy-mouthed afterthoughts of our lizard authorities are not), then it looks like things could be shaping up to get pretty real. Or did you already know that?

Personally, I vacillate between mindblind social scientific absorption and horrified disbelief. As a good libertarian, I try to balance my sometimes-myopic trust in market coordination and social resiliency against a healthy awareness of black swan events and radical uncertainty—all underpinned, of course, by an awesome appreciation for those devilish cognitive biases that can make a lone summer shark attack look like a spree of sharknados. But I gotta admit that this Ebola thing is starting to bug me in a way that other spectacles don’t.

I first got the feeling that something might be amiss when I noticed the Vox set trying so hard to convince me otherwise. Then things got a little too close to the demonpit for comfort, so I summarily paid tribute to the Amazon gods for provisions. Having recently received my 2-day deliveries of the basic rations on the cheap—DuPont elastic waist hooded coverall suits (plus booties!) (2); Uvex stealth safety goggles; disposable latex gloves (100); plenty o’ Purell®; a 3M P100 respirator mask and particulate filter packs (3)—assuredly all very highly recommended by the buzzing prepper forums that I briefly browsed in a wild moment of womanly panic, I’m now feeling like I’m sitting a tiny bit more pretty in this gaping biotarget that is our nation’s capital. All that I really need now is the appropriate safety equipment for my sweet pugdog (hit a sister up if you’ve got the goods) and my superstitious Spanish soul will be that much more at ease.

You can think me a scaredy cat, but I could say I’m “building robustness.” Best case scenario, I get a last-minute tasteless Halloween costume at the reasonable cost of one brunch foregone and a couple of yucks at my morbid imagination. Worst case scenario, I get a few more worry-free days of life in an airborne Ebola situation.

Ok, so maybe I have more legitimate reasons to fear a fluke transmission from ordinary hospital errors than from airborne mutation or a 4GW surprise. Whatever, it made perfect sense at the time.

Clearly, my ritualistic and meager stockpiling does not indicate a real fear that a blood-letting global pandemic lurks in our near future. What truly worries me is the revealed massive failure of governance and series of pathetically botched responses that have allowed the epidemic to grow beyond control.

Those tin foil hatters over at the New York Times saw fit to print this grim diagnosis: “What is not getting said publicly, despite briefings and discussions in the inner circles of the world’s public health agencies, is that we are in totally uncharted waters and that Mother Nature is the only force in charge of the crisis at this time.” And Mother Nature is a bitch.

I can’t tell whether I should take comfort or despair in this shared realization. Looking around, I’m getting the hint that I can’t expect the relevant leaders and institutions to do an adequate job to protect me from the nasties they were created to monitor. A quick jog down memory lane might show you what I mean.