Keybase is a small but ambitious company that aims to make cyrpto available and virtually seamless for everyone. Their approach to this problem, a massively challenging one that hasn’t really been cracked to date, has been creative. However, the flexibility and scope of potential applications hasn’t always been obvious as they’ve slowly scaled up from an invitation only directory with basic functionality to the much more robust layer of services and platforms supported today. I have followed the development of Keybase (my profile and proofs) closely and was excited to talk with co-founder Max Krohn about the product, the company’s unique approach, and the potential to apply Keybase’s model to solve problems like we’ve seen recently with the Qatar News Agency hack.
Covert Contact is back after a bit of break! Andrew Trabulsi, entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me again for a discussion about the inherent challenges in understanding and forecasting technology-driven change. This interview was originally recorded in October of 2016 so we also touched on the increasingly sophisticated use of data in campaigning and the challenge of finding objective truth in an internet experience that is increasingly personalized and shaped to influence.
Freelance writer and Zam.com columnist Robert Rath joins me in episode 57 to review the latest advances in virtual and augmented reality. Augmented reality, in the form of Pokemon Go, has captured much of the attention but the virtual reality market will continue to mature. Neither technology will remain a fad despite several false or slow starts. We look at this evolution and looming impact on our already diminished shared experience.
Andrew Trabulsi, entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me to discuss how profound shifts in technology create risk and opportunities for governments. We look at how artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and advancements in health care are poised to reshape our world – perhaps even more drastically than the seismic shifts that came before. The United States is well positioned to succeed in this environment, and the technology gap will create opportunities for dominance. However, new technologies also bring new vulnerabilities, new tensions, and new opportunities for determined competitors. The only thing that can be taken for granted is change.
Dr. Julia Tatiana Bailey is an art historian specializing in visual politics in the Cold War and art as propaganda, diplomacy and resistance. She recently completed a PhD focusing on official and unofficial Soviet-American cultural exchange and works as Assistant Curator of International Art at Tate Modern in London. Julia blogs on Cold War art at ESPIONART and can be found on Twitter at @espionart and @tattyjewels.
In this episode we discussed the importance of art in international relations and conflict – what we can learn from it and how it can be leveraged for influence. Much of the focus is on art as a tool during the Cold War but we also jump forward to the current environment which is being shaped by concerns about technology and surveillance – a topic of Julia’s recent guest post on Blogs of War.
In episode 32 of Covert Contact freelance writer Robert Rath joins me to discuss video games and the very real violence that surrounds us. Gaming, especially in the first person shooter genre, reflects our view of combat but it can shape our views on the subject as well. Video game inspired technology is also increasingly leveraged by the military for training systems – and weapons control systems as well. The lines between real and simulated combat are starting to blur. There are obvious parallels in the emergence of drones but rapidly evolving virtual reality capabilities and robotics are going to make gaming and warfare, not to mention reality itself, change in ways that are difficult to predict but sure to be profound. This is a fascinating topic and we just scratched the surface in this hour. But rest assured that we will be revisiting some of the subjects covered here for much deeper dives in future episodes of the show.
Robert has written on the subject extensively and I highly recommend some of his recent work on the topic including Ground Zeroes Gets Intelligence Right, Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie, Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future (Playboy – But now safe for work), and Pikachu and Pepper Spray: Hong Kong’s Geeky Protest Art.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been evaluating ProtonMail. This service is part of a new generation of tools (most inspired by Edward Snowden) developed with the aim of delivering robust encrypted communications and file sharing to the widest possible audience.
Blogs of War readers know that I’m not an Edward Snowden fan, far from it in fact, but I do believe that we have to secure the applications and communication channels that now pervade our lives. Not because I’m worried about the NSA. Frankly I’m far more worried about every other threat. However, I’m also keenly aware of the terrorist and criminal threats we face and why law enforcement agencies and intelligence services (the friendly ones) are deeply concerned about bad actors having the ability to go dark.
There are well-intentioned people on both sides of the privacy debate (see episode 18 with retired FBI agent David Gomez for a law enforcement perspective) and Andy Yen, as a privacy advocate, makes a powerful case for making encrypted communication tools as widely available as possible.
For more from Andy I recommend his TED Talk “Think your email’s private? Think again“.
I emailed retired FBI agent David Gomez from my new ProtonMail account to propose a podcast about encryption and its effect on mass surveillance from a homeland security and law enforcement perspective. You’re reading this because he immediately accepted.
Encrypted communication has been available to consumers for decades but new tools are arriving that are actually making it an accessible and realistic option for the majority of users. Easy to use strong encryption is, in many ways, a wonderful thing. It means that good people in bad places might have more freedom to communicate. It means that people can trust that a point to point communication is just that. But it also means that a lot of people with bad intentions will find it easier to go dark, to plot, and to recruit – often across international borders. How are governments going to cope with this especially when they’ve enjoyed great success with the current collection models that allow them to intercept electronic communications on a massive scale?
Even if you support strong encryption and disagree with government interception of electronic communications you must acknowledge the impact that cutting them out of the loop could have on our security. That tradeoff is the topic we struggle with in this episode.
You can follow David on Twitter @AllThingsHLS.
In episode 6 I look at the evolution of unmanned platforms and speculate about the impact that they could have on warfare. The technology is evolving faster than our appreciation for the complications it will bring so while there will be countless positive benefits there will also unquestionably be a dark side to it all. Smarter systems are better, and spare innocent lives, but does that mean that less ethical actors could exploit less capable platforms to kill indiscriminately? Does that give them an advantage?
This week I’m focusing on a single critical topic – the struggle between privacy advocates and governments over cryptography. This is a sensitive topic and there are a lot of extreme positions on the matter. I attempt to take a balanced look at both sides of the issue, offer my thoughts about who might win the war, and I explore what the eventual outcome might mean for intelligence professionals. However, I also argue that if either side “wins” the war without understanding and accommodating the positions of the other, we all stand to lose.
This is a slightly shorter and more focused episode but I’m exploring this format with the intention of releasing more than one episode per week. Please let me know what you think about the format change. You can do that on the Covert Contact Facebook Page or by connecting with me on Twitter @CovertContact.