When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

“Attacks on major cities all over the world have left emergency responders in chaos. The attacks are electronic, biological, nuclear and conventional explosives, and they are very widespread. I’m a security engineer, and where I come from, attacks in this kind of cluster are usually viewed as opportunistic: Group B blows up a bridge because everyone is off taking care of group A’s dirty nuke event. It’s smart. An Aum Shin Rikyo cell in Seoul gassed the subways there about 2:00 a.m. Eastern—that’s the earliest event we can locate, so it may have been the Archduke that broke the camel’s back. We’re pretty sure that Aum Shin Rikyo couldn’t be behind this kind of mayhem: They have no history of infowar and have never shown the kind of organizational acumen necessary to take out so many targets at once. Basically, they’re not smart enough.

“We’re holing up here for the foreseeable future, at least until the bioweapon has been identified and dispersed. We’re going to staff the racks and keep the networks up. This is critical infrastructure, and it’s our job to make sure it’s got five nines of uptime. In times of national emergency, our responsibility to do that doubles.”

One sysadmin put up his hand. He was very daring in a green Incredible Hulk ring-tee, and he was at the young end of the scale.

“Who died and made you king?”

“I have controls for the main security system, keys to every cage, and passcodes for the exterior doors—they’re all locked now, by the way. I’m the one who got everyone up here first and called the meeting. I don’t care if someone else wants this job, it’s a shitty one. But someone needs to have this job.”

“You’re right,” the kid said. “And I can do it every bit as well as you. My name’s Will Sario.”

Popovich looked down his nose at the kid. “Well, if you’ll let me finish talking, maybe I’ll hand things over to you when I’m done.”

“Finish, by all means.” Sario turned his back on him and walked to the window. He stared out of it intensely. Felix’s gaze was drawn to it, and he saw that there were several oily smoke plumes rising up from the city.

Popovich’s momentum was broken. “So that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

The kid looked around after a stretched moment of silence. “Oh, is it my turn now?”

There was a round of good-natured chuckling.

“Here’s what I think: The world is going to shit. There are coordinated attacks on every critical piece of infrastructure. There’s only one way that those attacks could be so well coordinated: via the Internet. Even if you buy the thesis that the attacks are all opportunistic, we need to ask how an opportunistic attack could be organized in minutes: the Internet.”

“So you think we should shut down the Internet?” Popovich laughed a little, but stopped when Sario said nothing.

“We saw an attack last night that nearly killed the Internet. A little DoS on the critical routers, a little DNS-foo, and down it goes like a preacher’s daughter. Cops and the military are a bunch of technophobic lusers, they hardly rely on the net at all. If we take the Internet down, we’ll disproportionately disadvantage the attackers, while only inconveniencing the defenders. When the time comes, we can rebuild it.”

“You’re shitting me,” Popovich said. His jaw hung open.
“It’s logical,” Sario said. “Lots of people don’t like coping with logic when it dictates hard decisions. That’s a problem with people, not logic.”

There was a buzz of conversation that quickly turned into a roar.
“Shut UP!” Popovich hollered. The conversation dimmed by one watt. Popovich yelled again, stamping his foot on the countertop. Finally there was a semblance of order. “One at a time,” he said. He was flushed red, his hands in his pockets.

One sysadmin was for staying. Another for going. They should hide in the cages. They should inventory their supplies and appoint a quartermaster. They should go outside and find the police, or volunteer at hospitals. They should appoint defenders to keep the front door secure.

Felix found to his own surprise that he had his hand in the air. Popovich called on him.

“My name is Felix Tremont,” he said, getting up on one of the tables, drawing out his PDA. “I want to read you something.

“ ‘Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

“ ‘We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

“ ‘Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.’

“That’s from the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. It was written twelve years ago. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read. I wanted my kid to grow up in a world where cyberspace was free—and where that freedom infected the real world, so meatspace got freer too.”

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