“Cambridge v Cambridge” Obama and Cameron engage in a cyber-game competition

January 24, 2015

Paul Hinks

War GamesPresident Barack Obama and David Cameron’s agreement to conduct a cybersecurity War Game recognises the very real threat from co-ordinated online targeted attacks

In what is being dubbed as a “Cambridge v. Cambridge” hackathon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT, of Cambridge, Mass] will go head to head with the University of Cambridge [of Cambridge, England] in a multi-day cybersecurity hackathon where each team will try to outwit its opponent.

After the Sony cyber-attack

The BBC reported the background to the cyber initiative:

The Cybersecurity war games come in the wake of the recent hacking of Sony Pictures’ computers and the US military’s Central Command’s Twitter feed. This posted comments promoting Islamic State (IS) militants.

The cyber-attack on Sony Pictures led to data being leaked from its computers exposing emails and personal details about staff and its movie stars. The hackers, who called themselves #GOP or Guardians of Peace, also threatened Cinema chains planning to screen Sony’s satirical North Korean comedy. The plot of The Interview involves a bid to assassinate the country’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Sony initially cancelled the film’s release after leading US cinema groups said they would not screen it, a move which Mr Obama later described as “a mistake”.

Leaderless Groups and Anonymous

The manner in which online ‘hackers’ collaborate, and distribute their powerbase deserves closer inspection. ‘Anonymous’ is one example of a self-proclaimed ‘leaderless’ group of dispersed individuals labelled as ‘hackers’ for their various well-publicised distributed denial of service attacks.

Anonymous joins the Je Suis Charlie solidarity campaign

Anonymous recently announced that they would target ISIS websites in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, They’ve already claimed to have had some level of success. The social distribution of multiple leaders does create a powerful and cohesive force – one which can be used for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – attacking those who are perceived to hold alternative values from their own.

Improving cybersecurity

Obama and Cameron’s initiative may well provide new levels of cybersecurity research, testing current best practice while also creating debate and discussion about how best to protect against future online threats. The initiative needs to look beyond the technical aspects of cyber-attacks and also explore the social dynamics of how online distributed Communities operate.


Author Paul Hinks is a regular subscriber to LWD. He blogs on technology, innovation, and social media. His post on Apple, CSR and Leadership is regularly the most visited of the year on LWD.

Thanks and welcome also to our new production assistant Conor Glean.


How weird are entrepreneurs?

November 17, 2008
Richard Branson

Richard Branson

The heroic entrepreneur has been the subject of much managerial myth-making. A recent study seems to be perpetrating the myth. But how weird are entrepreneurs? How much confidence should be placed in the research results?

An article in Nature this month examined the nerological differences between smallish samples of entepreneurs and general managers. I am looking more carefully at the article, which was by a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge. But already, the story has grabbed the popular headlines. Here is a synopsis of it:

The article, published in the journal Nature, asserts that entrepreneurs are riskier decision-makers than their managerial counterparts. Additionally, the type of decision-making essential to the entrepreneurial process may be possible to teach or enhanced in the future by pharmaceuticals.

Psychological and biomedical research has traditionally considered risk-taking as an abnormal expression of behaviour, as exemplified by its association with substance abuse and bipolar disorder. However, the Cambridge research, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, found that entrepreneurs represent an example of highly adaptive risk-taking behaviour which can result in positive outcomes during stressful economic circumstances. This ‘functional impulsivity’, the ability to make quick decisions under stress, may have evolutionary value as a means of seizing opportunities in a rapidly-changing environment.

So far so good

The results may pass down into the folklore of social psychology for one very powerful reason. They appear to confiem what many researchers already believed or suspected. That entrepreneurs are different, and that the difference has ‘something to do with’ the sort of risks that entrepreneurs take. Also, work going back many years indentified stronger N-ach (need for achievement) among groups of entrepreneurs.

But let’s not get too excited

The textbooks already tell us that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. If I remember the basic literature, they turn out to be moderately risk inclined, with more than average inclination to take risks, but in general, this is mediated with a grasp of reality. They ‘back the house’ in a way that is not utterly reckless (hardly surprising. The Cambridge study discusses the survival benefits of such behaviors, which is also not particularly surprising).

My own take on the research is that the entrepreneurial process requires a broader modelling than anything which can be detected ‘in the brain waves’.

More important are the implications of the research. There is already discussion around whether a pill could be invented to ‘help’ more people become entrepreneurial. I’ll leave that to another time. But remember that the entrepreneurial spirit, like the creative spirit, is a mischievous critter. Perhaps a pill to damp down the irrational exuberance of financial entrepreneurs might also be considered.