Taking the helm: applying lessons from cyber history

Despite its near everyday use, few people truly understand the meaning and history of the word cyber. 

But if we're going to have a hope of changing the so far failed story of cybersecurity, we need fully understand the word cyber and its implications. 

The meaning behind cyber

For most, cyber is a word popularized in the heady early days of the Internet and associated with a kind of virtual reality realm, a digital future envisioned by science fiction writers like American-Canadian William Gibson who pioneered the cyberpunk genre of literature and coined the word cyberspace, making the terms popular in books such as Neuromancer. 

But Gibson was a hacker - in the sense that he took something and changed it to fit his need - he did not invent cyber, which actually came from American mathematical and philosopher Norbert Weiner. It was Weiner who created cybernetics, which in itself is built on something else - the greek word for governance or steering - kybernetike. Kybernetike in turn comes from the word Kybernao - or steersman. 

weiner

Cybernetics is

the scientific study of the control and communication in the animal and the machine - Norbert Weiner, 1984. 

Governance

For Weiner, cybernetics was a necessary new term to describe a field dedicated to the study of humans, technology and control. 

Weiner issued some critical warnings about the failings of human intelligence and the dangers of unchecked technology:

There is general agreement among the sages of the peoples of the past ages, that if we are granted power commensurate with our will, we are more likely to use it wrongly than to use it rightly, more likely to use it stupidly than to use it intelligently. [W. W. Jacobs’s] terrible story of the “Monkey’s Paw” is a modern example of this — the father wishes for money and gets it as a compensation for the death of his son in a factory accident, then wishes for the return of his son. The son comes back as a ghost, and the father wishes him gone. This is the outcome of his three wishes - Weiner, 1949 essay to the New York Times

Taking the helm

For too long, discussions around the security of modern information and communications technologies have been focused on the systems or the information and not on the combination of systems, processes and people. 

This bias towards systems - something we've coined Silicon Bias - leads individuals and organizations to chase after technological silver bullets to problems that are firmly rooted in the management of people and process, which cannot be fixed by technology alone. 

We designed our new approach to cybersecurity, Beauceron, to help organizations of all sizes and types understand their holistic cyber risk, that is, the risk borne of the mix of people, process, culture and technology. 

At its core, the Beauceron technology and approach is about placing leaders and managers back at the helm, allowing them to better navigate the opportunities and risks of our digital present and future.  For while we believe Weiner's darker concerns about the negative impacts of technology ring true, they are not ironclad predictions of a unchangeable future. 

If you or your organization is ready to take the helm of your cyber risk and want to learn how Beauceron can help you, please request a demo.