Language Alerts

I’ve been reading up on the topic of security and open source software for an upcoming presentation, and I came to a news story a friend of mine forwarded. I’ll be the first to admit I need more practice with tech speak, and some of the language used in this news story really gave me pause. Oddly enough, though, I stopped because of their familiarity. Here’s the first paragraph of the article, Debian, Ubuntu SSH Under Attack:

OpenSSH (define) is one of the most common mechanisms in use for providing secure remote access to servers. A flaw in a key part of how Debian-based Linux distributions like Ubuntu secure OpenSSH has put potentially millions of servers at risk from a brute force attack. The attack could have major implications for the Internet.

Brute force attack? The violence in this lead paragraph is really surprising. I thought for a moment the author was adding a bit of drama for effect, but, no. A couple paragraphs later, he quotes someone from the “Internet Storm Center” who raised a “yellow alert” because this flaw would allow secure systems to be “very easily brute forced.”

I suppose we should be accustomed to this type of language at this time in our history. How long now have we been fighting wars on poverty, drugs, illiteracy? And our terrorist alert seems to be more-or-less permanently settled at . . . well let’s see. Here’s the National Terror Alert Response System’s embeddable “live alert,” already featured, they say, on over 50,000 Web sites:

Homeland Security Live Alert

Now it’s at least 50,001. But before we get too serious about security in various facets of our lives, let’s not forget to add a little bit of humor. Here’s a link to one of my favorite videos by Ze Frank called “Red Alert.” It cracks me up every time.

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1 thought on “Language Alerts

  1. Nice, Vera — you always seem to post something that’s related to something I recently taught. Yesterday we read a manifesto-ish essay titled, “What is Electronic Civil Disobedience?” It covers basics mostly, but provides good, clear definitions and makes references to its similarities and dissimilarities with “classic” civil disobedience (a la Thoreau, King, Ghandi (and on a side-note, why does everyone think that Thoreau advocated non-violence?)).

    Perhaps it is because we’re hot off two weeks of discussing the rhetorical strategies and limitations of non-violent and violent forms of social activism, but I, like you, am taken aback when I find anomalous traces of violence and non-violence in ECD and Hacktivism. For example, in the essay I mentioned he writes,

    “ECD is a nonviolent activity by its very nature, since the oppositional forces never physically confront one another.”

    And elsewhere . . .

    “Within the electronic environment, ECD aims to disrupt the operation of information and capital flows of carefully selected target sites without causing serious damage.”

    Operating within both of these quotes, and within your post, are very intriguing conceptions and assumptions of what constitutes violence, non-violence theory, damage, and confrontation.

    Hacktivism and ECD routinely implement automated email bombs, viruses, worms, site re-directs and “floodnets.” If the previous defintion of violence seemed to be based on materialist consequences (but even more specifically, bodies fighting against bodies) and less symbolic management, the material consequences of shutting down hard-drives seems to slide in there.

    Anyway, thought I’d share. I’m always curious as to how non-violent protestors rhetorically purify their means, so that they can rest assured in a pure end.

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