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Why don’t we invoke St. Michael for cyber-security?

An inquiry into why concerns about cyber-security do not translate into our spiritual lives.

St Michael icon
An icon of St. Michael from the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, Greece

Listening to the bidding prayers at Mass or the prayer requests at a service is always interesting. We have no doubt heard prayer requests asked for a solution to homelessness, famine, terrorism, war and so on and so forth. But how many reading have ever heard of a prayer request made for cyber-security? I have been to Mass at quite a number of places (and, for that matter, Divine Liturgies and worship services. . .whatever floats your boat, “the whole kit and kaboodle”) but I cannot remember a time when someone has come up to say: “Let us pray for our nation’s cyber-security”.

 

The silence is certainly deafening, increasingly in a world where the tangible is being transferred to the digital. Cyber-security was deemed the biggest issue by banks in the United Kingdom in 2013, and it was an issue that featured prominently in the World Economic Forum in 2016. The recent WannaCry attacks that brought the NHS to its knees and disrupted around 250,000 computers in over 150 countries around the world – and what is beginning to look like a cyber attack on British Airways – really show just how important cyber-security is in the world today.

 

Albert Einstein once famously remarked that he knew that World War IV would be fought with “sticks and stones”. But if I might be so bold as to challenge the genius, it looks increasingly like it will be fought with 0s and 1s. Hence it is unsurprising that some analysts attribute the WannaCry attacks to North Korea, and Theresa May warned that the so-called Islamic State is moving from the battlefield to the internet, and next week (1st June 2017) marks the 5th anniversary in which President Obama ordered Stuxnet cyber attacks against Iran’s nuclear facility in what was dubbed “Operation Olympic Games”.

 

With all of this mentioned, we really are confronted with the question as to why cyber security isn’t featured much more prominently in churches? Cyber attacks have the prospect of decimating entire economies, bringing vital services to a halt, as well as offering a new avenue for war between nation-states. My own tentative thought is that the reason it is not taken seriously in the Church might be because cyber-security is “invisible”. But then surely that seems contradictory to a religion based on worshipping an unseen God? The other possibility is that the Church is just seriously behind the times.

 

It is something worth considering: perhaps we should all ask St. Michael much more frequently to protect our devices and accounts from digital good-fer-nothings?

 

Java and the Latin Mass

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A priest celebrating a Tridentine Latin Mass.

Most people who know me know that I hate Macs. Unfortunately, I have to use them for work purposes (and it seems, I am using it even for this very blog for the time being, as my PC is on the cusp of giving up the ghost so have to wait until I can muster up enough £££ to get a new one).

 

Anyway, during a coding session, I noticed a peculiar similarity between Java and the Latin Mass (in the Catholic Church). Ok, for those who don’t know, every program that you run on a computer has to be programmed by someone or a group of people somewhere; it doesn’t just fall like manna from Heaven 😉 . Programs are programmed in different languages – some are programmed in C++, others in C#, others in Python, and so on and so forth.

 

This might sound like gobbledygook until you imagine it is much like travelling the world and going to Mass in each country and hearing the Mass said in different languages – some are in English, others in French, others in Spanish, Zulu, etc. This, of course, is problematic: most of the world are not gifted polyglots and so understanding what is said at a Mass said in a different language is problematic. The same can be said about computer languages – because each computer/phone/tablet (more specifically, each computer’s processor) understands a program slightly differently, this means that a programmer would have to tailor a program specific to that computer’s processor for it to understood in the same way universally. There are hundreds of thousands of processors so this is virtually impossible. In some cases, it would be impossible for it to be understood by the processor (what is termed as ‘lacking portability’, portability meaning how easily a program can be used/transferred on different platforms).

 

Java solves this by using what is called a ‘Virtual Machine’. This means that it translates the code of a program written by a programmer into what is called ‘bytecode’ – this translation being done behind the scenes with the help of a compiler – with the end result being that a program coded in Java is understood by all kinds of processors in much the same way; in the same way that the Latin Mass, by being said in Latin, offers a universal standard. Your ‘Dominus Vobiscum’ is the same in London as in Paris as in Rio de Janeiro and as in Santiago. This means that a priest from Brazil could offer a Mass in England with no real loss of understanding by the faithful present at the Mass.

 

Yet lest I be accused of being a Latin Mass fanatic, the downside of a Virtual Machine is that it results in a loss of speed – understandably so, the Virtual Machine is effectively an intermediary between the code by the programmer and the underlying hardware of the computer. Much the same could be said about the Latin Mass: whilst its advantage is in allowing people to understand it wherever they go, this comes at the expense that the faithful cannot understand it with as much ease as they would in their own native language.