Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Discipline and Art

Stephan Bugaj has a fascinating article up, “Steve Kurtz: Tactical Art.” I wanted to tie this to my post “The Discipline of ‘think like an attacker’

Kurtz only briefly mentioned his four year ordeal with the Department of Justice (this is also a good article about it), and only as a single exemplar of his overall thesis that the role of art is to push back against the social mechanisms of what he’s termed “expression management.”

In staging this mock bioweapon release in front of the U.S. Embassy, what Kurtz found was that his own internal microfascisms were causing him to attempt to derail his own project by listing things he was sure they wouldn’t be allowed to do: march and then assemble in front of the embassy, then use a city tower to release the smoke with the (harmless) biological sample in it, and then bring skin samples from the participants to a lab for testing.

What he found instead was that the Leipzigers, despite Germany’s decades longer ordeal with terrorism (from not just Islamists, but also neo-Nazis and Communists), were quite willing to support the project. When the sponsoring Leipzig arts institution asked, the city gave them use of the tower, and permission to march to and in-front of the embassy, with no fuss. The biological laboratory in the city was equally obliging.

It’s a very interesting post about the intersection of art with ‘the policeman within.’ The lecturer in question has certainly had enough encounters with the policemen to have developed an interesting orientation towards their relationship with society.

In security engineering work, we often have to overcome internal filters, such as “why would anyone do that?” I think that powerful art, like that of Banksy or Wendy Richmond has an ability to transform the way we see the world for the better. It’s a shame when our artists need to contend with arrest for doing things which are not illegal, but merely confusing to our armed public servants.

Previously on Emergent Chaos: Banksy on anonymity, England, and Disneyland.

One comment on "Discipline and Art"

  • Reading two of your recent posts, I realize that some of what you articulate relates to a recent post of mine about the U.S. e-voting systems:
    Adam, you talked about “The Costs of Secrecy,” and how security is crippled by a conspiracy of silence,”The ongoing costs of not talking about what’s going wrong are absolutely huge.” This is not just happening around the fight against phishing.
    The security of America’s e-voting systems, particularly Direct Recording Electronics (DRE) has long been known to be prone to glitches and easy to manipulate — leaving no trace of a malfunction or a hack. But according to recent e-voting reports(by a number of independent election watchdogs),the technology has left us in an horrible position, without enough time now to do anthing about it.
    The traditional news media has said very little about it until recently, now that the Nov. 4 Election Day is upon us.
    Legitimate votes can be easily deleted and cheaters can take advantage of similiar weaknesses that produce computer viruses and worms. Experts claim many of the problems with DRE machines are entirely preventable. But, too bad, there’s no time now. In fact, some are already voting early for the President of the United States. The list of the glaring weaknesses and problems with the DREs is unbelievably long. More than 40 percent of the ballots to be cast nationwide are in jeapardy.
    I too like the Steve Kurtz phrase “expression management.” Is there any bigger expression management issue than not allowing citizens a secure system in which to vote?
    If you’re interested in more details, and linked resources, check out
    Sharon McEachern

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