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Cybersecurity’s Grammars: A More-than-Human Geopolitics of Computation

Link to the paper in Area: https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12728

I am pleased to say that my first sole-authored article has just been published in the journal Area – focused on discussions in geography but with a broader readership. This is part of a special issue on ‘Geopolitics and Language’ – and I thank Ingrid A. Medby for all the support in putting this together, as well as from Pip Thornton and Nick Robinson who gave me very good feedback!

In this paper, I develop my thinking from my PhD on the role between authorship and the agency of computation. In particular, through the case of malicious software and the case of the ransomware NotPetya. I do this through the notion of ‘grammars’ which help us understand the tenors of connection between computation, authors, and the ecologies in which they all perform. This is partially to tie together the formalism of computation along with the emergent properties of the performance of computational agency through choice (by drawing on N. Katherine Hayles’ work).

This helps us understand why we cannot simply understand the grammars as human and computation but rather as more-than-human as they are produced by both. Grammars also then permit an appreciation of how malware and their authors – hackers – come to influence geopolitics in what could be unforeseen ways (at least from our perspective). Yet, I do not believe we should understand these as collateral effects or unintended consequences. As this frames a distance of human responsibility. Yet, in the same breath, we cannot say that the human is wholly responsible. I articulate this as a new form of (geo)politics which must take grammars seriously. This is particularly so with regards to cybersecurity.

The recent Colonial Pipeline hack in the US by DARKSIDE ransomware, I think is a continuation of my argument in the paper on NotPetya (which also references the SolarWinds compromise). That is, grammars are forming in new political alignments which means that security is ever-more important – and particularly understanding the ecologies which permit certain grammars to take shape.

I hope that some of you enjoy at least some aspects of this paper – and I am always happy to hear feedback and criticism of this work. It is very much still ‘in progress’!

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