Ransomware, Bitcoin, TOR, and the Concept of Freedom

Freedom is always a two-edged sword, isn’t it? Just yesterday over 70 countries were hit by the WannaCrypt ransomware. Using stolen NASA-engineered tools WannaCrypt ran rogue in the wild, hopping from infected computers onto networks and locking down computers. It wasn’t target-specific — in the UK it hit hospitals; in Spain, telecomms; elsewhere, FEDEX, railway stations, and so on. As usual its choice of carrier was Windows machines. The ransom demand asked for payment in Bitcoin via an onion address.

Also as usual, leaders and governments responded with the usual rants and cliches about ‘evil people’, ‘criminals’ and so on. But this is the dilemma. Criminal is just a word reflecting intent. Let me explain. In Swaziland, in southern Africa, traditional healers (those who were once known as witchdoctors) have three names: there are tinyanga, those who heal using herbs; tangoma, those who also employ spirits in their practice; and batsakatsi, those who use their skills for evil purposes. What is important to note is that batsakatsi are not different from the first two — it is only that they choose to use their skills for evil.

The WannaCrypt worm was able to thrive this week because of a security hack created by NASA to spy on people — whether to prevent ‘terrorism’ or not, we don’t know — an example of a government freedom that got used against it.

Meanwhile, Bitcoin and TOR (the network created by the US government for security) proved their worth in our current climate. We all want security for our transactions, just as we look for it in our lives. The irony is that our tools are neutral in that they can be used for either good or evil, for control or for freedom, for us or for them.