Nanotech will be focus for future criminal hackers

Criminal hackers once rejoiced in manipulating the new digital phone systems in the 1960s and 1970s; then they moved on to using modems and hacking into mainframes in the 1970s and 1980s; then they exploited the new local area network technology and the burgeoning Internet in the 1980s. Malware writers moved from boot-sector viruses on floppy disks in the 1980s to file-infector viruses and then to macro viruses in the 1990s and vigorously exploited worms and Trojans for botnets in the recent decade. [See "Brief History of Computer Crime".]

So what's next on the horizon?

Recently a report in the "Random Samples" column by Joceyln Kaiser in SCIENCE magazine for Feb. 19, 2010 (Vol 327, p 927)[subscription required] told of the fuss in France "over the pros and cons of nanotechnology." Apparently in late January 2010, "the committee organizing the series of 17 debates threw in the towel, replacing the final two meetings with 'Internet workshops' and making the wrap-up event in Paris on 23 February by invitation only." The changes were the result of "heckling by antinanotech protesters in five cities."

The group "Pièces et Main d'Oeuvre" (PMO) based in Grenoble has been agitating against even the discussion of nanotechnology. They consistently refer to the public events as "pseudo-debates" (pseudo-débats) and sneered that the cancellation in January of a debate in the vandalized municipal hall in Orsay was a pretext (the walls were painted with graffiti and the locks damaged). Here is my translation (French is my native tongue) of part of their press release: "It is evident that the walls with graffiti, even with antinano slogans, and damaged locks have never constituted any risk whatsoever for the public invited to debate, and that the [organizers] hurried to seize this pretext to avoid the painful repetition of its fiascos, faced with a real public, in body and in voice, revolted by its campaign of promotion for the Nanoworld."

The press release continues with a long rant about how the authors hope that the electronic meetings will collapse and comparisons of the imagined event to various famous French movies.

It reads like something written by 13-year-olds in 1983.

The question remains, however, of whether the agents of change are and will be taking the lessons of information security into account as they explore the possibilities of new technology. For example, the nanoparticles called polyamidoamine dendrimers (PAMAM) "cause lung damage by triggering a type of programmed cell death…." The anti-nanotech organization NANOCEO (Nanotechnology Citizen Engagement Organization) has an enormous list of articles and scientific reports about the potential environmental risks of nanotechnology.

On the other side of the debate, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) has an extensive series of thoughtful fictional scenarios based on aspects of nanotech. They also have a Frequently Asked Questions section where they describe themselves as follows: "We are boosters for safe use of nanotechnology. CRN promotes research into molecular manufacturing not in spite of the risks, but because of the risks. Only through exploration, understanding, and education can we hope to make good decisions about developing and administering this transformative technology."

In the next column, I'll discuss a particular kind of nanotechnology: self-replicating nanobots.

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