In 1841, Thomas Carlyle named the press the "Fourth Estate" due to its importance to democracy and government. The other estates were the church, the nobility, and the townsmen/commoners.
The First Amendment of our Constitution prohibits abridging the freedom of speech or freedom of the press. In my humble personal opinion, with this awesome and critical freedom come responsibilities.
I think the press and media have the responsibility to inform all with accuracy and integrity – and to report that information without bias. I know, I'm a dreamer! The Fourth Estate should provide the other estates the information they may not get otherwise. It should be an honest broker that informs us commoners so that we can keep our governments and nobility honest and on track. And yes, we have our own nobility: career politicians, academia, captains of industry, sports figures, and Hollywood.
I've written in other blogs about the failures of our government to recognize the cyber threat and failure to address it. Our nobility, the leaders in industry and academia, have failed to recognize and address this critical cyber threat.
So where has the Fourth Estate been? In 1987, I worked with local news media in Washington, DC on a story about pedophile bulletin boards. In the newscast, the anchors joked in private and on-air that they didn't understand the technology and the involvement of computers in crime. It was just too complicated for them. I gave them a pass in 1987. But how about now?
The nation today, 30 years later, is completely dependent on the Internet, computers, and networks. It's also critical to how the media does business. In the early '90s, the Air Intelligence Agency actually sent an Intel team to Atlanta to visit CNN. They wanted to learn how the media, which has a very similar job as the Intel Community, could collect information, analyze it, and disseminate it so quickly. They mirrored their Ops Center after CNN's.
Our public safety, privacy, national security, and just as importantly, our nation's economic security depend on technology today. This technology is more prolific and unfortunately more vulnerable today than 30 years ago.
So where on earth has our independent press/media been? AWOL! I believe that their responsibility is to point out the successes and failures of our government and nobility and get them to address neglected areas of critical concern. That's why our forefathers gave them this freedom. It's not that we don't have enough of them. There have been dozens of 24-hour news channels for 20 years. Hell, everyone can be considered media today. Even me. (OMG that's scary.)
Unfortunately, our biased media today still jokes about not understanding the technology. Since they still don't get it, they have neither educated nor informed the commoners so that they are able to hold the government and nobility's feet to the fire. Like our government and nobility, the media hasn't grown and continues to focus on the cold war era, not our future.
The Election Hack by the Russians (which I have addressed in previous blogs) is the shiny object that the media has latched onto rather than investigating and reporting on:
- the state of cybersecurity for our critical infrastructure
- the state of cybersecurity for individuals’ home systems
- the state of cybersecurity education and training in academia
- the state of digital forensics education and training in academia
- the state of cybersecurity for companies
- the state of cybersecurity at the state and local government level
- the state of cybersecurity at the federal government level
- the state of digital forensics in state and local law enforcement
Russia tried to influence our election, but that's not the story. They could have wreaked havoc on all of our critical infrastructures and possibly caused cataclysmic disasters. But they didn't. If ISIS or another terrorist organization had the Russian capability (or any other world power's capability), do you think they would hesitate to launch those attacks? The lack of cybersecurity and the failure of the "Four Estates" – that's the story!
Our nation's very existence is at stake and it's time for the Fourth Estate to wake up, educate themselves, investigate, and report on the cybersecurity failures and vulnerabilities of the other estates.
We commoners need to hold the Fourth Estate accountable and responsible too. There's just too much at stake.
Jim Christy is VP of Investigations and Digital Forensics at Cymmetria. Jim retired from the U.S. government in 2013, ending a career investigating computer crimes and running digital forensics labs that began in 1986 at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Jim can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Jim on Twitter: @jimchristyusdfc