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Philosophy, Plato, and cybersecurity as a public service

Jun 16, 20164 mins
IT JobsIT LeadershipSecurity

Will the world’s next cybersecurity experts know more about criminology, philosophy, and sociology than they do about engineering?

plato statue greek philosophy
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If you are unfamiliar with the story “The Ring of Gyges” from Plato’s Republic, its relevance to cybercrime is timely, certifying once again that the flaws of human nature transcend time and generation.

In the story, Glaucon and Socrates are discussing the concept of justice and why people do what is good rather than do what they would prefer to do, which is commit acts of injustice. To make his point, Glaucon recounts for Socrates the tale of Gyges, a shepherd, who happened upon a magic ring. When he turned the ring inward, Gyges became invisible. Twisting the collet outward, he reappeared.

Glaucon argues that if there were two rings, one to be worn by the just and one by the unjust man, “No man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men.”

Inevitably, the actions of the just and the unjust would be the same, for where man is able to safely do wrong without consequence, he will indeed be unjust.

Could Plato have predicted the evolution of society, he might have envisioned the world in which we live now. Rather than magic rings, we have the world wide web and the dark web, arguably availing man of the same privileges that the magic rings secured him thousands of years ago.

This question at the heart of the debate between Glaucon and Socrates is whether we will always be driven to design realms in which we can exist in anonymity. Glaucon asserts that, “All men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice.”

Today, the world’s economy and public services rely on technology. As such, protecting the technology, data and services of the world’s organizations is vital and inspiring work. An important public service that relies upon those who are just.

Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast, believes the real requirement to fill the employment vacancies in the cybersecurity industry is to motivate and inspire young people, in particular, about the opportunity to make a real difference in their global, national and local communities through a career in IT security.

“The world is moving to an unprecedented level of connectivity. If you think about the wild west and lawlessness, there was a natural cap on crime because you had no anonymity. You had to be physically present and expose yourself to fairly considerable risk,” said Bauer.

In the digital world, you have criminal forces that are pretty unconstrained because, like anyone wearing the magic ring, they can maintain anonymity. “Cyber crime is low cost with an abundant work surface of opportunity to go after. Attackers can research an organization, send an email to fraudulently engage in dialogue, and extract money out of an organization,” Bauer said.

Clearly, we have a problem of ethics as has always been the struggle in any society. “These are only the early signs of issues that will grow as we become more and more connected,” Bauer said.

Whether it is blackmail extortion, cyber espionage, phishing attacks, malware, malvertising, the threats of bad actors will continue to evolve. “There becomes a duty of care for and as a society, to work toward a way to ensure the rule of law prevails as everything changes to this digital format,” Bauer said.

Anonymous groups of adversaries have always threatened the welfare of society, and the world has never had a shortage of people that are economically unethical or disadvantaged. Greater access to anonymity via the dark web is tantamount to handing human beings these magic rings that will turn them invisible.

Security is going to be one of the key areas of work that needs to be done today and in the future as the world grows more digitally connected while departing more from our interpersonal connections.


Kacy Zurkus is a freelance writer for CSO and has contributed to several other publications including The Parallax, and K12 Tech Decisions. She covers a variety of security and risk topics as well as technology in education, privacy and dating. She has also self-published a memoir, Finding My Way Home: A Memoir about Life, Love, and Family under the pseudonym "C.K. O'Neil."

Zurkus has nearly 20 years experience as a high school teacher on English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (2011). She earned a Master's in Education from University of Massachusetts (1999) and a BA in English from Regis College (1996). Recently, The University of Southern California invited Zurkus to give a guest lecture on social engineering.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Kacy Zurkus and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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