Andalucia Steve the dream

Rockets on the Blockchain

The time has come for missile accountability.

OH-58 firing Hellfire missile during Operation BrownThe recent stories of the Hellfire Missiles turning up on a Serbian passenger airliner and of Cuba returning a missing, albeit dummy Hellfire Missile to the US got me thinking. Governments and arms manufacturers are far too murky in the ownership and movements of weapons and ammunition.

Now there may be some excuse for hiding munitions for reasons of security, but consider this. The argument for nuclear weapons goes along the lines of, "if the other side know we've got them they won't attack us". So point one, it should be a positive boon to promote and publicize a nations armory to scare the pants off the enemy. This is why nearly every country from Russian to North Korea, from Spain to Japan has military parades.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty was introduced " to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament" which is a worthy aim. This involves weapons inspection and monitoring - point 2, what gets measured gets managed. So why not, given that we have the technology, extend the measuring a monitoring of weapons of mass destruction to weapons that are not massively destructive but can nonetheless make a right mess of a city block?

Initially I can see arms manufactures poo pooing this idea, since arms sales has always been a bit cloak and dagger. However I really think that cleaning up the arms industry and making it more accountable may actually grow their profits.

Lets sketch a scenario as to how this might work, using our $110,000 Hellfire missile as an example. Suppose we legislate such that each missile manufactured has to be given a unique identity number that has an entry on a blockchain specially created for the purpose. When the missile is sold or resold, the transaction is noted on the blockchain so at any time we know who is responsible for the missile. Now suppose we have a means of determining where the missile eventually detonates so this too is recorded on the blockchain. There are a number of ways to do this. I'm sure the technology used to launch the missile records this data anyway, but if not it would be trivial (compared with the cost of the missile) to build in the functionality to transmit the GPS location of the point of the explosion. We then have cradle-to-grave tracking for the life and death of the missile.

Lets consider some of the implications of this. Firstly, because the damage caused by the missile is tied by the blockchain to the current owner, countries and arms dealers will be far less likely to engage in sales to nations with arms embargoes as the identity of the seller will be clear. The manufacturer can point to the blockchain and say nothing to do with us - this missile was sold illegally. Also the owner of the target, be it a country or even a surviving individual (perhaps the absentee owner of a destroyed building) will have redress. The blockchain will allow a victim to see who owned the missile and should the action be illegal, make a claim for damages. If however the weapon is used legally, the owner can use the blockchain to easily get an ROI on each missile. This could play a big part in reducing a nation's arms budget - costing death and destruction against initial outlay to identify the most profitable weapons.

This may at first seem an extreme departure from the haphazard way warfare has been conducted in the past - call it the 'lob it and see' approach. When one thinks about it though, many countries track livestock to counter foot and mouth and BSE, so it seems perverse NOT to track an object such as a missile that costs hundreds of thousands of times more and is capable of wreaking such extensive damage.

My example uses a missile, as these are weighty easily identifiable objects. In the future though similar blockchains could be set up for a whole manner of different types of armament, perhaps one day to the level of individual bullets.

For the arms manufacturers, selling accountability opens up a whole new industry for them. In a way it justifies the sale of weapons in peacetime. They can make the claim that they are being responsible, providing an audit trail that protects innocent civilians from the misuse of their products. The Internet of Things, of which this is really a part, is being described as the next big thing, and security is central to the platform. If we can persuade weapons manufactures that to be early adopters of this technology can not only increase their profits but sanitize and improve the image of their industry, we just may make the world a safer place at the same time!


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My First Telecommute

Today is the twentieth anniversary of my first spell of working at home.

It was a Saturday, twenty years ago today that my life changed forever. 

I'd been working since 1984 for the British Government as an IT manager, and at the time I was inc charge of a small network of SCO Unix boxes, supporting a userbase of about three hundred people. Various admin chores needed to be done when everyone was logged out, things like making tweaks to the password file or tuning the tcp/ip settings. Because I worked in Kensington and lived twelve miles away in Surrey it mean't a journey of about an hour and a half each way. I didn't mind getting the overtime but the commute on a Saturday really used frustrate me because I hate wasted time.

I was aware that being tcp/ip based, I could log in remotely to my network. This was pre-web my network wasn't connected to the internet. Being a government department, security was of absolute importance and I didn't think I'd ever get permission to dial up and log on.

The a device fell into my lap that changed everything. It was dial-back MODEM. If you youngsters don't know what a MODEM is then it is a device for connecting computers together over the phone by modulating and de-modulating the streams of bits.

Anyway the important thing here is dial-back. This particular brand (sorry can't remember for sure - think it may have been US Robotics) had a feature that allowed you to program in a phone number so that when you dialed in from outside, the modem would call back on the number specified. Incoming calls were otherwise blocked. Access to the network could be set to be only via the call back. 

I felt a deal coming on. I thought it through for a day or two and presented my sales pitch to my boss at the time. Here's roughly how it went:

"Listen I've had an idea." I'm fed up with the Saturday commute, especially when the train fills up with Millwall fans, so why don't I use this here callback modem to make a connection to my PC at home so that I can work remotely? It's completely secure because it can't accept any incoming connections, and it logs the times of the calls. That means you have an accurate record of the time I'm actually working and another plus is you don't have to pay me travel time!"

He bought it! I couldn't believe it. The following Saturday was 26 June 1993 - I connected, the modem called me back, and I sat working at home in my pyjamas. It was so cool! It felt like it was the future. It was.

After about a year of doing this, I was happy, my boss was happy and everything was good. Then there was some sort of top down security review and I was banned from doing it, but by that time I'd already set a path to accept voluntary redundancy and go into the private sector. 

On and off now I've been working at home for many of those intervening years, but nothing has matched the buzz I got on that first special Saturday.

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