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October 13, 2023

High-Tech, Low-Tech, and the Illusion of Security

Our technology — along with the people who use it — will at some point fail to keep us secure.

By Jared Bridges

High-tech is not always the best tech.

“Gaza is surrounded by a huge fence. They breached the fence. They ‘low-teched’ us. … They just low-teched us and they swarmed into the country and they entered 22 different towns, committed atrocities of every way, shape and form, murdered, raped, and took hostages back to Gaza.”

That was Israeli policy advisor for the U.S. — Israel Education Association’s assessment on “Washington Watch” of how Hamas launched its invasion of Israel. As Hamas terrorists poured into Israel on October 7, they didn’t exactly hack the border gates with a barrage of artificial intelligence and roll in with next-generation tanks. As described by Reuters:

“The first move was a barrage of 3,000 rockets fired from Gaza that coincided with incursions by fighters who flew hang gliders, or motorised paragliders, over the border, the source said. Israel has previously said 2,500 rockets were fired at first.

Once the fighters on hang-gliders were on the ground, they secured the terrain so an elite commando unit could storm the fortified electronic and cement wall built by Israel to prevent infiltration.

The fighters used explosives to breach the barriers and then sped across on motorbikes. Bulldozers widened the gaps and more fighters entered in four-wheel drives, scenes that witnesses described.”

The terrorists simply floated over the wall. Given Israel’s state of technological advancement, Hamas may as well have been riding horses. In time we’ll undoubtedly learn more of where the intelligence and security breakdowns occurred, but it’s now abundantly clear that technology alone didn’t keep Israel secure.

Whether it’s national or personal security we’re talking about, high-tech security often barks more than it bites. When I was in college, I forked over the big bucks for a Kryptonite brand bike lock. Nobody was going to hacksaw through that thing, made with the toughest steel and big enough to fit through the wheel, the frame, and the bike rack. But my Kryptonite lock became a paperweight when it was discovered that its first generation of locks could be opened relatively easily with little more than a Bic pen and 90 seconds of patience.

One of the more well-known technological security failures of the 20th century is France’s Maginot Line. Constructed at great expense to the French from 1929-1938, the 300-mile string of fortifications had its heaviest sections along France’s border with Germany, with hopes of shutting down any future German incursions. The Maginot Line’s turrets, traps, forts, and other obstacles were thought to be a technological marvel that would prevent invasion. Students of World War II know that Nazi Germany simply went around the Maginot Line, invading France via the Netherlands and Belgium.

The internet is teeming with examples of how to break open supposedly impenetrable safes or how to get around intimidating security. Why are our technological barriers not always what they’re meant to be?

“People make assumptions concerning technology,” says David Flickinger. A D.C.-based cybersecurity consultant, David knows all too well that it’s the people who use and implement technology for security who often undermine the very protective systems they build. “They believe that a system designed to perform a specific task can perform no other tasks, or they believe that if a resource is hidden then it is secure,” Flickinger told me. “They might put extraordinary effort to secure a perimeter but neglect the interior, creating a system that lacks defense in depth.”

This is not a new problem. There’s a passage in the book of Judges where Abimelech, the son of Gideon, is in combat with the people of Shechem. The people of Shechem hole up in what they think is the stronghold of their temple — a kind of pit beneath the building which they thought would be a secure space. With his enemies all gathered there, Abimelech simply sets a fire over them, killing a thousand people. They were hidden in an otherwise strong place, yet all it took was a simple fire up above. The strength of their fortress kept Abimelech out, but it also kept them in.

What often seems the safest almost always has vulnerabilities that leave us open to danger. Our world is not safe. And the recent events in Israel are a vivid reminder that technology is not something in which we should put our hope. As we Americans look at solutions for securing our own borders, we would do well to keep this in mind. Good fences may indeed make for good neighbors, but good fences don’t always keep out bad ones.

Thankfully, we do have a greater hope than fences or technology. Israel’s own King David sang in Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Chariots and horses, while effective weapons for war, both had vulnerabilities. David’s son Solomon likewise told us in Proverbs 18:10 that, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” True security can indeed be found.

Our technology — along with the people who use it — will at some point fail to keep us secure. That doesn’t mean we stop employing technological and human means of security. But we do need to set our sights higher — to a name that’s greater than our high-tech gear, and to a tower that’s stronger than any of our fortresses.

Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.

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