October 04, 2004

Put on your Googles

Lawyers can back me up on this one but there's a golden rule in politics (and the courtroom):

"Don't ask a question that you don't already know the answer to."

Actually there's another one that would come in useful for the Premier:

"If you've dug yourself into a hole...stop digging."

Alex Scott breaks the second rule all the time, most recently when he spoke with RG to rebut the Mid Ocean article.

He broke the first and second rules on VSB radio news this morning. Apparently the Premier asked people to use Google and look up 'Social Engineering' and they'd see that it does not have a negative connotation...or something to that effect. But he obviously didn't do the query himself because the results aren't helpful to his weakening case.

(There's been a couple of comments on this topic over at A Limey in Bermuda but it's worth a mention here.)

Now I have a degree in both sociology and political science - and I can't remember a damn thing about either - but I am a googling monkey (backoff Mr. Ahad), so I welcomed the opportunity to put my non-degree skills to work.

I googled 'social engineering' alone and also 'social engineering, sociology' and here's what you'll find:

The first search, and what most people would probably do, returns a bevy of results related to today's common usage of the term social engineering - the computer hacker definition:

(sō ´sh&l en´´j&-nēr´ing) (n.) In the realm of computers, the act of obtaining or attempting to obtain otherwise secure data by conning an individual into revealing secure information. Social engineering is successful because its victims innately want to trust other people and are naturally helpful. The victims of social engineering are tricked into releasing information that they do not realize will be used to attack a computer network. For example, an employee in an enterprise may be tricked into revealing an employee identification number to someone who is pretending to be someone he trusts or representing someone he trusts. While that employee number may not seem valuable to the employee, which makes it easier for him to reveal the information in the first place, the social engineer can use that employee number in conjunction with other information that has been gathered to get closer to finding a way into the enterprise’s network.

To summarise, it's a scam used on unsuspecting computer users to trick them into providing information (passwords, bank account numbers, social security numbers) that can be used to rip you off. Sort of the sinister Governmental interpretation of what Eddie Saints raises in RG today.

Surely the Premier didn't intend for people to see that definition?

So, on to the 2nd search of 'social engineering, sociology', which produces far less. If you follow your way into the first link to Wikipedia you'll get the sociology, or more like political science usage:

Social engineering (political science) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In the field of political science, social engineering is a mainly pejorative term used to describe the intended effects of authoritarian systems of government. The implication is that some governments, or powerful private groupings, are intending to change or "engineer" the citizenry, for example, by the use of propaganda, or through the manipulation of culture. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became quite active following World War II:

..."I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology.... Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called 'education.' Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part.... It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment."

"...The subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship.... The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray."

"...Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen."

--Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, 1951

Laws and tax policies can influence behavior, and progressive politics often promote socially influential policies.

A general meaning is any attempt by a government to alter society. Whether a government is supporting or altering a society depends upon what is the purpose of government.

Ooops! So the Premier's assertion that it's a sociological term is a little loose (it's primarily a political science term), although we'll give him that one. The common usage is in political science as a 'mainly pejorative term' to describe authoritarian, communist or other failed socialist regimes attempts to manipulate the citizenry through misinformation and state sponsored propoganda.

Hence the hijacking of the term by hackers.

Now you can assert that a fairer description would be a more general definition, such as 'an attempt to alter society' - which is itself creepy but not quite as bad.

Anyway, if you're still with me in this post, try this multiple choice question:

Premier Alex Scott's speech on wealth redistribution (err, I mean mentoring programs) revealed

a) his fondness for failed socialist policies and techniques
b) that he's a relic of the 1960s
c) that he's violating the golden rule of not asking questions that you don't already know the answer to
d) that he's trying to dig his way out of a big hole
e) all of the above

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy