Marc Goodman Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It. Doubleday: New York, 2015. 393p.
Reviewed by: Vincent Harinam, 2017
It was not too long ago that political analysts and security experts were up in arms over Russia’s supposed involvement in hacks of the DNC during the 2016 US presidential election. While the exact effect of Russia’s technological tampering in aiding or obstructing the success of the candidates is a matter of speculation, one thing is abundantly clear: technology has imbued malicious entities (whether domestic or foreign, individual or nation-state) with the capacity to influence our most sacred of democratic traditions. Indeed, if democracy itself can be challenged what other domains of human life can technology negatively impact? Though unstated, this is the fundamental question that Marc Goodman seeks to answer in Future Crimes. More specifically, the author documents the dark side of technology, examining how emerging technologies have ushered in a new age of crime commission that encroaches upon the social, commercial, medical, and industrial expanses of human life. Goodman’s point is emphatic and well-argued: technological innovation increases opportunities for crime commission, a reality cybercriminals are eager to exploit for personal profit. However, it is important to note that while Future Crimes is written for the average technologically literate Westerner, it may nevertheless serve as a guide for academics interested in this criminological sub-discipline.
This book is a meticulous intermingling of case studies and data points on past, present, and future high-tech crime. It is this steady onslaught of anecdotes and statistics which allows Goodman to hammer home his arguments. Goodman separates this book into three sections. Section one provides a clear historical examination of specific forms of cybercrime but makes the important effort to link these historical occurrences to modern cybercrime realities. For example, Goodman explains the phenomenon of malicious software (malware for short) by outlining the famous 1986 infection of IBM’s computer systems by two brothers in Pakistan. This initial viral incursion has metastasized into a modern cyber-epidemic as a 2013 Kaspersky Lab report indicates that over 200,000 new malware samples are identified every day. More importantly, however, while the intentions of early hackers pertained to causing general mayhem, modern hackers have sought to monetize their efforts by coding viruses to steal sensitive user information. In essence, Goodman takes a genealogical approach to understanding modern cybercrime. Further, section one provides a very detailed analysis of the modern surveillance economy and its relation to big data. Goodman maintains that the collusion between data brokerage firms (Axciom, Epsilon, Datalogix, etc.) and social networking platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), geo-location services (Google Maps, etc.), and popular search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) has created a $150 billion industry which siphons, stores, buys, sells, and abuses user data.
Section two is where the book truly offers something more than an extended summary or meta-commentary on cybercrime. Goodman, taking advantage of the foundations built in section one, maps technological development to burgeoning and fast approaching subsets of criminal activity. Indeed, this is one of the primary strengths of Future Crimes. Goodman examines past and present trends in cybercrime and makes logical predictions on future trends from the evidence presented. As such, section two summarizes and makes hypotheses on the security implications of exponential technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and ubiquitous computing, synthetic biology and genomics, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things. Consider for a moment how the aforementioned example of the Russian hacks into the DNC may have played out if synthetic biology was the arena of play. Synthetic biology pertains to DNA reprogramming and biological engineering via the mastery of genetic sequences. Goodman makes the argument that while synthetic biology allows for personalized medical treatment it also allows for the creation of untraceable and undetectable personalized pathogens. With such technology it would be entirely possible for the Russians to have created a pathogen that only affected Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or both. Imbedded within this section is a much needed commentary on technological connectivity and the budding Internet of Things. Goodman argues that the more we plug our devices and our lives into the global information grid the more susceptible we are to attacks from individuals who understand how to manipulate these systems.
Section three is where Future Crimes loses some of its luster. In truth, Goodman only delivers on two-thirds of the book’s tagline, “everything is connected, everyone is vulnerable, and what we can do about it.” While Goodman is remarkably illustrative about technological connectivity and user vulnerability he offers a disappointing set of recommendations on how to combat future crimes. The solutions are rudimentary as while they may be unfamiliar to those unacquainted with the cybercrime industry they are all too familiar to cyber-security experts. These solutions can be summarized as such: password strength and variability; frequent system updates; safe downloads; and sophisticated encryption protocols. While these solutions may potentially prevent the crimes outlined in section one, they can do very little to curb the future crimes examined in section two. However, Goodman cannot be held completely at fault as the preventative protocols needed for future crimes cannot be developed (much less proven effective) if these crimes are yet to occur. Nevertheless, there is no mention of multi-factor authentication systems, complimentary encryption software, or bounties for cyber-criminals. Importantly, this lack of information unintentionally sheds light on the ineffectiveness or more accurately the nonexistence of cybercrime legislation. This is a remarkably important facet of cybercrime that Goodman does not address.
This book possesses some minute weaknesses. In particular, there is a lack of references to the academic literature. While this may not perturb the average reader it may concern criminologists who seek a more pedagogical experience. However, there is a perfectly logical explanation for this: the academic literature simply does not exist or is currently in production. Indeed, the relative novelty of these technologies and the minimal (and sporadic) media coverage of high-tech crime make it a clandestine area of study. Another weakness is Goodman’s utter inattention to the use of technology by law enforcement. Several police forces have begun integrating sonic disruptors, vertigo-inducing rays, and dummy telecommunications towers into their arsenal. These technologies continually push police departments towards a specialization in asymmetric warfare and crowd control as opposed to traditional practices in community policing. Additionally, the success of algorithmic policing in reducing crime is yet to be determined. While Goodman identifies the malicious uses of technology by private citizens he speaks little of the deleterious uses of technology by law enforcement.
Despite these weaknesses, Future Crimes does an excellent job of summarizing a large and unexamined area of criminological studies. To his credit, Goodman is able to effectively explain several sophisticated areas of cybercrime without inundating the reader. This book serves an as excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with this sub-discipline but also provides fresh and relevant material for those in the field.