Durham Moving Together Postgraduate Conference

I will be presenting at the Durham conference on May 4 2016 with the paper:

W32.Stuxnet: An Olympic Games.

Sprinting, jumping, throwing, shooting, running, leaping.


Siemens Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)? Seimens SIMATIC Step 7 Industrial Control Software? Yes… Next Step.


Welcome to the most wonderful of Olympic Games. A brilliant new, sophisticated cyber weapon has been created. A game against Iran, against its nuclear enrichment programme in Natanz. Those who played we can only deduce; the USA and Israel. Stuxnet is the name attributed to this multifaceted, modular, updating malicious software(s?). It slithers, propagating between machines, checking, stealthily, hiding, the joker of the system. What a game, to travel with this more-than-human. Enter this cyberspatial ecology, driven by a tension of potentiality, beyond virtual, the real. Collaborations between malware artists and their offspring, malwares, generate peculiar, novel methods of movement. USB sticks, Seimens PLCs, network shares, command and control servers. It is simultaneously divided and yet constituted, materialised. Its mobility disguised, tricking, mimicking normal flows. Through its movement it becomes known. Static analyses neglect the agential vibrancy this malware exudes; it is through flows it is malicious – to us humans – ultimately it is (simply) software. Experience how Stuxnet interacts with complex geopolitical interactions of Iran and the USA / Israel, confused engineers at their screens, Windows operating systems, zero-day exploits and modular malware engineering. Let’s explore what our expert human friends tell us of malware, the conflicting narratives of their movement, one that disjoints dominant human action from the ecology within which cyber security develops. Join us on a geographical adventure to experience an ever-incomplete picture of our destructive (productive?) compatriot.

The in(dividual)

Yesterday I went to a reading group within cyber security, and we talked about an interesting paper that was in Science January this year, called “Unique in the shopping mall: on the reidentifiability of credit card metadata” (paid subscription required). Though we talked about several of the issues with the paper and the reason for its appearance in Science for a start, this got me thinking about the wider concept of the ‘dividual’ that Deleuze details in a short article that was published (see paper here) in the publication October in 1992.

Through a fairly dense, but easy to read paper, Deleuze summarises that we have moved from Foucault’s disciplinary societies to control societies. For those with a background in this, please skip to the next paragraph. So, to potentially to give the work of Foucault great injustice in what I am about to say; Foucault identifies a transformation of society in the transition from the medieval to industrial period. These periods are obviously not solely independent and the mechanisms do not always belong to one and can be applied alongside one another. Hence the growth of institutions such as the school, the hospital, the barracks, the prison and so on all were a transition where bodies en masse were controlled and disciplined to work for the powerful.

To speed on from the simple explanation above, Deleuze (and Foucault himself in governmentality and biopolitics) identify a new movement in the development of their thought. This is one where individualism and the body not solely as an empty ‘space’ becomes a ‘place’ where thoughts and movements should be all-flowing and monitored. Modulation is the word Deleuze uses to express this new formation where we do not simply move between institutions as before but are constantly having to learn, self-police, healthcare services in the home and the burgeoning market in healthcare products. This means that the emphasis is on the individual to succeed (with its associated serpent, neoliberal capitalism).

So, why the societies of control or control societies? Unlike in the past where individuals were constructed in order to be disciplined, neoliberalism requires free movement but states (and other stakeholders seeking to control – think corporations, gated communities) still require extensive monitoring to ensure they maintain their power. This monitoring is aided through the use of technologies that track our movements through passes to enter buildings, touchless payment cards and mobile phone signals. Deleuze coins the word ‘dividual’ to capture the data that are produced by in(dividuals) where segments of the data are used to control; such as the ability to access buildings, access to credit according to financial transaction history, et cetera. The concept of the dividual makes more sense if we have discrete datasets. Yet, we live in the world of supposedly ‘big’ data where there is an increasing ability to cross-reference dividualised data to (re)construct an ‘in(dividual)’.

Returning to the paper that constructed my thoughts above, the authors claimed that they could easily reconstruct roughly 90% of unique credit card identifiers through four informational nodes. These could include the location of the shop, time of purchase, approximate cost and distance from next purchase for example. Though there are other issues of privacy and the unicity (the ability to reidentify unique individuals) of data, there is a philosophical question to grapple with that uses both the societies of control and disciplinary societies. I consider the ‘body’ (in its extension to producing non-human datas, movements across space and like) to be critical to arguing our current epoch is not one of pure dividuals – and displaying the geographies this produces.

I much prefer to use the ‘in(dividual)’ to present the current manifestation of our society. The formation of the internet and ever-increasing sharing of information has enabled disparate information to come together and provide ‘value’ to capitalism. This is epitomised in the valuation of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and the giant Google. This value requires these companies to in(dividual)ise. Let me explain what I mean here. So for ‘big’-data analytics to operate effectively it needs to dividualise my body(ie)’s movements through its limited collection points; through my credit card, my phone signal, my Facebook account, the cookies I leave lying around and so on. This enables a population-becoming whereby services can be focused on particular ‘groups'(?) and reflects the growing use of statistics in the development of biopolitics (see Louise Amoore’s article ‘Security and the claim to privacy‘ on ‘data derivatives’). Yet there is a requirement for personalised advertising where I must become in(dividual). I must form a group. I am gay. Therefore I get many ‘gay-themed’ adverts across the internet (some to my utter amusement!). This feedback loop, where I am classed as forming as ‘at risk’ group for example, if I was to apply for credit with a ‘poor’ rating, then the in(dividual) would come to play. My in(dividual) body’s movement influences ‘it’, and ‘it’ influences ‘me’.

Therefore how can one work against this? What playful acts can I working as an in(dividual) do? I could spend rather large amounts at different places (although probably not), use different cards, use other people’s cards? Or I could change my Facebook ‘likes’ or make completely false trails everywhere. This is where the power lays. This is where the kink in current society lies. Although I am partially determined by my allocation, what happens if I do not conform to any group – I do not only do it for myself, the data that feeds the group is also skewed. This is true play. To circumvate the rules, to not conform to one identity, but express the multiple identities the body inherently exudes. This in(dividual)ising both can have detrimental effects on how I operate as an in(dividual) as long as I play by the rules. The best play is one which bends them.

Why is the body critical to this? Critically the body is one which has truely emancipatory affect (though we must realise we live in a period where ‘able’ bodies tend to ‘succeed’ in comparison to less-able bodies). There are only a limited amount of collection points (though these are ever-increasing in size with sensors in the Internet of Things (IoT)) that mean that their comprehension of the world is always limited and non-pervasive. Therefore feeding certain nodes bits of information that our bodies produce incorrectly (such as hacking a wearable technology to send ‘healthy’ signals to an insurance company) enable small acts of powerful play that not only distort the in(dividual) but the dividualised groupings. We can use the ingenuity of the body (and here I refuse to use the mind-body dualism – useful to point out here) to claim the in(dividual) for ourselves, in whatever form ourself may take.

Uncertainty: A Critique

Luciano Floridi has recently written on uncertainty in a short editorial on conditions of ‘uncertainty’ within information theory in Philosophy & Technology (the article is currently available free here) with which I have a problem with.

Although I agree with the principles outlined in his piece, I believe there is an assumption explicit within its execution. This is the belief that somehow ‘information’ and its knowledge is able to predict the future. As I mentioned in my previous post, Louise Amoore’s work on probability (and indeed uncertainty) argues that the future is impossible to correctly predict. Thus, information due to its abstracted quality, the impossibility of recording everything and their associated variables ensure that we are always in a ‘block’ or “add some friction to the flow of information”. I am not here to critique the great explanation of uncertainty that Floridi provides, but to make a more nuanced point.

This point refers to the fact that Floridi alludes (whether intentionally or not) to a world where human agency alone provides uncertainty because we cannot somehow ask the right questions and gain their answers. In our world(s) it is not possible to ask all the right questions due to the interplay of the non-human with the human. This ensures that ‘questions’ are out of the bounds of ‘our’ language and we will never be able to generate these questions in their human form. Look to the work of Derrida on the deconstruction of language or différance as examples of how language cannot specify the true meaning of the world. Therefore I believe that information (as an abstracted form of the world which is given intrinsic human value) always provides blockages. Look at the below quote;

“In philosophy, it is time we learn the value of a low and stable degree of uncertainty. It is unhealthy to eradicate it completely, for a small dose of unanswered questions in the social system leads to increased degrees of liberalism, toleration and fairness, as well as more efficient flows of information. It seems that the value of information also lies in what it can teach us about its own equilibria.” (p.3)

This creates an impression that there is an ability to ‘eradicate’ uncertainty and claims we somehow the power to deny this. Plus, I question what Floridi means by “its own equilibria”. Can information ever have an equilibrium? If information is abstracted then it has human value in its process of becoming known. Hence this statement appears to give a somewhat ‘natural’ quality to information based on older western philosophical norms. There is fundamentally nothing ‘natural’ about information – it is a socially-constructed phenomenon. It is therefore interesting that this term is used. Uncertainty, then, is a condition of human existence – we can never comprehend the world in its entirety – yet Floridi’s call for it to be further recognised can be applauded even if its execution is somewhat questionable.