Design Flaws: Methods of attacking critical infrastructure

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As readers know, I am fascinated by the ideas of network theory, and in particular the ideas of Scale Free Networks – today often seen as describing how the Internet works, for example.

Yet there is another branch of theory called “Highly Optimized Tolerance” (HOT) which casts some doubt on the universality / usefulness of “Scale Free” theory.

There’s a great article in this month’s New Scientist.

For example, whilst “Scale Free Theory” suggests that if you take out critical Internet hubs, the system will fail, HOT suggests that not to be the case. Whilst the failure of relatively localised ISP will affect many users, the extraordinary number of routers across the world (which have only a few connections but by virtue of their vast number allow traffic to find new routes to destinations) suggests a great deal of Internet robustness.

A fascinating debate, and one with implications on both Social Network theory and on new Networked Organization models.

From Global Guerrillas, by John Robb.

“Complex infrastructure often exhibits extreme levels of vulnerability to non-planned events. The reason for this is may be found in an area of complexity research called highly optimized tolerance (HOT). HOT research has found that complex networks, like most global infrastructure, exhibit behaviors explained by the design considerations of its makers. The end-result of this planning is a network that is extremely robust against certain types of anticipated failures/insults but conversely is hypersensitive to unanticipated classes of uncertainty.

NOTE: this isn’t as obvious as it seems. Complex systems, like the Internet, operate well beyond the influence of any central management group and the thinking of the original designers. This research shows that the core design and operational decisions made by these groups does have a major impact on the ability of the system to respond to damage.

Design Flaws

The crux of this analysis is that global guerrillas can exploit the assumptions of designers to create major distruptions in complex networks. Further, once this is done, the network will likely work for the attacker by causing damage to itself (from outage responses gone awry to increased costs of operation).

NOTE: This is very much the approach Lawrence of Arabia used in his Arab revolt. He attacked the Turk’s train system which the designer’s/users assumed to be safe because it was well to the rear of the front lines and it traversed remote areas.”

Read the rest of the article

Why Managing by Facts Works

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From strategy+business, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

“John Lilly, formerly the CEO and founder of a Web-design firm and corporate incubator called Reactivity, recently recalled what it took to sell an idea to venture capitalists during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. In a period of 30 weeks, his team generated 30 PowerPoint presentations as “prototypes” for a diverse group of Internet-based startups. Out of these, a combination e-mail and Web browser was chosen as the most promising. Its PowerPoint presentation was fine-tuned and then shown to potential backers. Based primarily on this slide show – there was very little else for the venture capitalists to go on – Reactivity raised more than $100 million for a new company (now defunct) called Zaplet.

“That approach wouldn’t work now,” said Mr. Lilly, currently vice president of business development and operations at Mozilla Corporation. “By and large, venture capitalists only fund Web-based companies that already have proven the ability to attract customer traffic.”

Chalk one up for evidence-based managementthe notion that real knowledge in the form of empirical analysis of results is the shortest path to the best business decisions. That may seem obvious, yet few companies follow that precept. Many executives make pivotal strategic choices based on nothing more than business fads or the dubious recommendations of advisors who are afraid to challenge the preconceived judgments of their bosses or the organizational status quo. Quantitative or qualitative data that measures how well the strategy is working is often the last concern. As a result, critical company decision making, relating to acquisitions, restructuring, new product launches, brand marketing, and the like, often takes place in the dark.”

Read the rest of the article ….