Our Most Trusted Institutions Are Betraying Us

July 29, 2015

6:00 pm

The government officials who we vote into office, the bankers who control our nest eggs, the business executives who we support with our purchases: all of them are guilty of the most fundamental of sins: short-term thinking.

In a now legendary incident, state-sponsored Chinese hackers caused a data breach of the servers of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and stole files on at least 22 million Americans. The files included highly sensitive personal information including health records, background checks, social security numbers, and relationship histories of employees of the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and even the Central Intelligence Agency. To call this a disgrace of our country’s cybersecurity apparatus would be a sweeping understatement.

But the federal government doesn’t stand alone; our international financial institutions are just as negligent. The United Nations estimates that transnational organized crime brings in more than $2 trillion a year in profits. All-in-all, organized crime represents between 15 and 20 percent of global GDP. None of this would be possible without the deep-seated tacit acceptance and outright corruption of many leading financial service providers and the regulators tasked with policing them.

That’s why James Chen and I cofounded Mozaik in the first place, to bring some semblance of justice to a financial system wracked by malfeasance. No doubt you’re aware of our role in the most recent international scandal. In my tenure as CEO, I have interfaced with the leaders of virtually every financial and cybersecurity organization in existence. I have personally seen explicit fraud at the highest levels of government, unequivocal collusion among the biggest bankers, and systemic manipulation by organized crime capos. My family was under constant threat and some of my closest friends gave their lives to expose these schemes. But that’s not the worst part.

We cannot eliminate bad actors. Greed, ambition, and ruthlessness are part of the human psyche and not all of us keep them in check. No, society will always have antagonists. But we must stop making it so damn easy for them.

The worst part is that our virtual infrastructure is shamefully insecure. Most banks, public companies, and government agencies started incorporating software into their operations more than fifty years ago. Over the decades since then, many new features, updates, and repairs have been implemented to prevent data breach. But at every iteration, managers faced a choice: spend more to rebuild their systems from the bottom up or spend less to institute a bandaid fix that addresses the symptom but not the cause.

In order to secure short-term wins (reelection, promotion, quarterly earnings, etc.) those managers have consistently chosen door number two. We inherit their rotting legacy: missing source code, patchwork systems, and unintelligible engineering. Every hole is a hacker’s golden ticket. The institutions that we depend on “protect” our precious information in soaring skyscrapers built on matchstick foundations.

Our leaders are betraying us through sheer incompetence and the situation is untenable. We must build society to last, not to falter. We must sacrifice short-term profits for long-term gain. We must search inside ourselves for the fortitude to face tomorrow with fresh eyes, ready hands, and open minds.

Mara Winkel is founder and CEO of Mozaik Industries Inc., based in Boulder, CO. She is also the protagonist of The Uncommon Series.

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Founder and CEO of Mozaik Industries Inc., based in Boulder, CO. She is also the protagonist of The Uncommon Series.