Cyberhacking and The Masked Ball

In the 1850s, Verdi thought that Eugene Scribes’ play about the assassination of Swedish king Gustav III at a masked ball would make a cool story for an opera.  Unfortunately, when he submitted the libretto to the Neapolitan and Roman censors, they decided that the subject matter — the recent assassination of a European king — was a little too sensitive politically only a few years after the revolutions of 1848.  That’s why, when it opened in 1859, this opera sung in Italian based on a play about a Swedish king takes place in colonial Massachusetts.

We were reminded of Verdi’s travails by the cyberbattle described in today’s Financial Times between Iranian and Chinese hackers.  Little is known about the motives or backing of either group but it seems clear that the cause of this outbreak is the sensitivity in each of these countries to the playing out of political dissent in the other, the discussion of Iranian politics in China serving as  a code for internal arguments and vice-versa.

These events are yet another example of the degree to which the world’s current multipolar turmoil has led to religious tensions that mask political disputes and sports rivalries acting as surrogates for economic competition.  For the multinational corporation, these deepening layers of meaning provide yet more opportunities for costly faux pas.  Traditional political risk analysis has tended to be based on a review of long-running geo-political trends.  The emergence of the “Iranian Cyber Army” suggests that there is an acute need for much more frequent observation of the shifting scene.

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