What did you do in the Cyberwar?

It was a dreich day along the Clyde this morning, and the headline news wasn’t about to cheer anyone up. Over the weekend the cyber attack on the NHS and other major organisations had escalated and there were questions to be asked. So, Thought for the Day offered an opportunity to think about why anyone would choose to wreck havoc on such a well-loved institution. Here’s a couple of minutes of reflection. As always, you can listen again at 1:22:44, or read the text below.

In a recent interview Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, spoke of how he imagined the web as “an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

He went on to remind readers that while he may have invented it, all of us have helped to create the web as it is today. The online community has grown with each word, image or piece of code that human beings have contributed to it. This morning, in the middle of this unprecedented and escalating cyber attack, perhaps it’s helpful to reflect on our role in creating the web.

In recent months we have grown accustomed to stories about the role of the internet in manipulating political opinion, exploiting our privacy and challenging truth, but the ransomware attack on the NHS seems to sink to new depths. Who would do this? Why would they choose to perform an action that puts ordinary people in danger? And what can we do to stop it?

There is a level of complexity to this story that leaves most of us feeling out of our depth, so it’s tempting to dismiss the perpetrators as deliberately evil, or blame the technology that allows them to act with such selfish disregard for the lives of others.

But to do so lets us off the hook. No technology is innately good or evil, it is only ever a vehicle for our ideas and imagination. So, the printing press enables us to read the Bible, Shakespeare and today’s newspaper, but it also gave us Mein Kampf, and the phone-hacking scandal. The invention of bronze gave us tools to cultivate and weapons to destroy. The internet offers collaboration and opportunity, but is also a vehicle for hate speech, pornography and cyber crime.

Who would do this? Human beings, whose hearts are, according to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, the most deceitful of all things. Perhaps we begin by acknowledging the truth of that statement, recognising the capacity for good and evil, light and dark that dwells in each of our hearts. Let’s not be deceived that the internet is to blame for the state the world, or even that a small band of evildoers intent on causing chaos is all that is wrong here. We each play our part in creating this web of lies, half-truths and finger-pointing, and perhaps by choosing today to live with truth, goodness and grace towards others, we counter the darkness with light, and confront the evil with good.

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