A number of theories are going on about Wikileaks – about the ties with the Rothschilds, about the game plan for ‘staging’ another 1931-alike banking collapse and of course, most importantly, the whole new dimension it has given to the ‘badnami of munni’ in the comic context of ‘the ambassador’ and ‘the president’ in Pakistan (For those of you who have not received this joke as yet, little r me and I would be glad to do the honors).
But amidst the political turmoil and conspiracy theories, as technologists, we are looking at a new era unfolding. Information warfare has been yet another buzz word of the 21st century and the theorists that have claimed it to be the next world war, WWIII i.e. are smirking as Wikileaks drives the point home.
While working as the Technology Specialist for Public Sector, we used to often get engaged in this debate with the government officials especially in the context of the emerging trend of Cloud Computing. “We cannot trust our data with Microsoft outside Pakistan – you must bring your data centers here” – some would say with a patriotic vigour that sends a chill down your spine, only until you receive their business card that has their email address ending @gmail.com. Quite an argument indeed, sir! Some stood their grounds, such as the Higher Education Commission that refused to opt for the cheaper hosted alternatives for email I must say. And there is also of course the EGD that had decided to port all the foreign hosted government websites back in the country. At the same time however, most of the government officials you meet prefer to use personal email addresses with providers such as Google or Yahoo regardless of whether or not there exists an in-house messaging system. Their is a lack of trust in the in-house messaging service since the control at the end of the day lies with the IT Administrator and this fear is not all false – most of the Messaging Services provided by vendors including Exchange & Lotus – the most prevalent ones – do allow the recovery of emails under certain disaster recovery scenarios by the administrator with the right privileges. So is it then the case of choosing the lesser evil – lesser in this context measured in the sense of short term or long term threat?
At least two important lessons are there for the technology providers as well as the government internet users in Pakistan from Wikileaks. One, we need to realize that the use of Google, Yahoo, Live etc. is just as threatening as the perceived risk of cloud computing, in fact, even more so considering we might not put up confidential data in applications or portals hosted outside Pakistan (in Cloud Computing model) – but we certainly use email, most of the times unconsciously, for such an information exchange. It’s probably about time this was addressed and the same way that the action was taken to move all the websites hosted outside Pakistan back in, authorities takes ‘suo moto’ notice on all the gmail users as well! Second, for technology providers – selling Cloud Computing may be even more difficult in times to come unless partner hosted models are invested in, in the country. It may also mean that arguments of hosting data in European countries that have stricter information security laws compared to the US might also begin to fade since it’s no longer about ‘legitimate theft’ of information. Wikileaks is not a product of Cloud Computing, but is certainly food for thought for further investments in Cloud Computing within the ‘Information Warfare’ battlezone.