Botnets, networks of compromised end-user computers and servers, are hugely sophisticated engines of computation and messaging these days – just like cloud computing. Botnet creators can now sell their criminal and fraudster clientele capabilities to do a variety of tasks, from trying to crack into banks to creating fake grassroots political campaigns.
The use of botnets for straightforward criminal activity is nothing new, of course. By marshaling the resources of hundreds of thousands of infected computers at any given time, botnet controllers can use sheer brute force to bring down relatively unprotected websites just be directing thousands of traffic requests per second. Or they can use such an event to mask a more surreptitious attack into a bank’s online data.
For decades — perhaps even centuries — journalists have been the primary witnesses to and chroniclers of war, piecing together news reports from eyewitnesses and military briefings. But what if the armies or military forces who were engaged in a conflict took on the role of publishers themselves, distributing their own live reports while the battle was being fought? That idea is no longer science fiction: it became reality when the Israeli Defense Forces started live-blogging and live-tweeting an attack on Hamas guerillas in the Gaza strip and uploading video of their rocket blasts to YouTube.
Social media, once thought of as a tool for bored nerds and marketing gurus, has taken on a whole new role it seems — one that could stand to change the face of modern warfare forever. As BuzzFeed notes in its round-up of Twitter posts from the Israeli army (a sentence I never would have imagined typing even a few years ago), the IDF actually warned Hamas guerillas not to show themselves on the Gaza strip or risk being killed in the attacks that began Wednesday morning, and the official Hamas account responded:
In the hours that followed, videos of rocket attacks on Hamas strongholds were uploaded to YouTube, and the IDF blog carried a minute-by-minute breakdown of what was happening — how many Hamas rockets it intercepted, a strike by the Israeli Navy, and so on. It looked very much like the New York Times live-blog The Lede, except that it was being published by a military force: the front of the website even looks like a traditional news blog or breaking news site, complete with the usual social-media buttons for sharing content on Twitter, Facebook and other networks.
The reelection of Barack Obama was won by people, not by software. But in a contest as close as last week’s election, software may have given the Obama for America organization’s people a tiny edge—making them by some measures more efficient, better connected, and more engaged than the competition.
That edge was provided by the work of a group of people unique in the history of presidential politics: Team Tech, a dedicated internal team of technology professionals who operated like an Internet startup, leveraging a combination of open source software, Web services, and cloud computing power.
A truly impressive story of systems engineering, from the macro to the micro level. I really commend the Obama tech team on their impressive re-imagining of how big data and scalability could change the way political parties interact with voters. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that their system gets re-packaged and licensed out to future political orgs. Heck, I can think of a few corporations that could use this kind of model, too. Like mine.
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