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Tuesday, October 8 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
Software Maintenance in Cyberspace Competition: The Geopolitical Functions of Slack

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I want to begin with the original reason for the incorporation of cryptography into our computers and computer networks: control for large institutions (state and corporate), and against adversary institutions and individuals. This has been clear since the inception of computer security. In the first large scale studies of how to implement distributed and adaptive computer networks, Paul Baran wrote in the early 1960s how cryptography would make the institutions organized by these networks impervious to contestation: no eavesdropping, no hacks, and thus, a far greater ability to implement their objectives without negotiation. Baran looms large in much humanistic theory, in which his technical work is taken as a founding text for a distributed society built on the network architectures he specified—but few academics are clear that this distributed system was always to be cryptographic, and always for dominant institutions. (Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are one conspicuous example.)

Cryptographic systems, then, are meant to increase control and to reduce slack : the inefficiencies, errors, and oversights that reduce system efficacy. Maintenance scholarship has typically focused on maintenance in the roles of social good. However maintenance is also central to systems that we do not wish to be perfectly maintained: those which would violate social norms if they functioned at high efficacy, and systems implicated in the national security posture of US adversaries. The latter case is more conspicuous in the rise of cyber conflict, and the competitive, sub-conflict ‘grey zone’ which sees the rise of a new doctrine, typified by US Cyber Command’s formal doctrine of persistent engagement of the enemy in cyberspace. Political and economic security in cyberspace, in other words, is not simply the result of an absence of cyberattacks, but the ability to maintain an appropriate security posture (which, in CYBERCOM doctrine, also involves active engagement).

In my talk I will explain how the security requirements of the Domain Name System (DNS) and its Security Extensions (DNSSEC) can be understood as sociotechnical maintenance. Understanding the role of maintenance in DNS and DNSSEC can, in turn, help us reassess maintenance as more (or less) than a social good, as a practice that can produce good or bad consequences for a given social group. 


Tuesday October 8, 2019 4:00pm - 4:30pm
5AB (2nd Floor)
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Attendees (4)