Boasting hundreds of millions of customers for his company's anti-virus software, Eugene Kaspersky is one of the leading global authorities on cybersecurity. So when he warned executives at a technology conference this spring that "cyberweapons are the most dangerous innovation of this century," the tech world took notice.
After all, Kaspersky was among the first to publicly document the state-sponsored use of cyberweapons, signaling the advent of a new era of war. His company, Kaspersky Lab, alerted the world to the danger posed by the Stuxnet worm -- reportedly developed by the U.S. and Israeli governments -- that attacked the Iranian nuclear program before spilling out into the wider web, as well as the Flame virus that infected thousands of computers, mostly in the Middle East. He has also provocatively called for Internet users to be issued online virtual "passports" that would work like driver's licenses in the offline world.
Kaspersky is no stranger to controversy. Before co-founding Kaspersky Lab in 1997, he was educated at a technical school sponsored by the KGB, and he spent time working for the Russian military. He has refuted allegations that he still has ties to Russian security services and was working on their behalf to expose U.S. cyberweapons. "I'm just a man who's 'here to save the world,'" he wrote in a rebuttal to a negative profile in Wired.
Kaspersky's Hobbesian view of cyberspace might be discomfiting for people used to thinking of the Internet as a place of cute cat videos and anodyne status updates, but it's becoming clearer and clearer that we can no longer afford to ignore his warnings.
Reading list: Why Smart Executives Fail -- and What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes, by Sydney Finkelstein; Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson; On China, by Henry Kissinger. Best idea: This was a boring year in terms of amazing ideas. Worst idea: Advocating cyberweapons and a cyberarms race. American decline or American renewal? Both -- renewal after decline. More Europe or less? More, to accelerate science, technology, education, economy, and democracy. To tweet or not to tweet? Definitely yes, if you want and can write.… Definitely yes, if you can't write.
Many lament the plight of women in Afghanistan -- Sima Samar has actually done something about it. The 55-year-old doctor founded the Shuhada ("Martyrs") Organization in 1989, and it has gone on to help educate tens of thousands of Afghan girls and provided health services to millions more. Now, ahead of a scheduled U.S. withdrawal in 2014 that is raising the prospect of a post-American Afghanistan where the Taliban once again force women out of public sight, Samar insists the government in Kabul and its Western allies take their rhetoric on women's rights seriously. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in at a ceremony honoring Samar last year, she challenges us to "think more deeply about what making peace really requires" -- and it's more than just getting the men to lay down their arms.
From her perch at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the country's official monitor for everything from civilian rights during wartime to detainee abuse, Samar has rung the alarm bell about the dismal state of women's participation in modern-day Afghanistan. Even after a decade of the United States showering Afghanistan with some $90 billion in taxpayer dollars, there's not enough to show for it. "The sad part is that the international community's actions do not reflect what they say," Samar said this year. "It talks about women's rights, but then they don't include them" in peace negotiations with the Taliban, or much of anything else. She has also taken on her own government, loudly criticizing its reliance on Islamic law and cultural norms that force women to wear burqas.
It's a vital message in a country where almost 90 percent of women can't read and childbirth is more dangerous than just about anywhere else on the plantet; a country where a woman who is raped can be prosecuted for adultery and the female suicide rate is among the world's highest. And with the government actively trying to bring the Taliban back into the political process, Samar represents a bulwark against the return of the Islamist movement's medieval vision. "I am used to playing with fire," she has said. "Somebody has to do it."
Reading list: Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson; Obama's Wars, by Bob Woodward; Siraj al-Tawarikh, by Faiz Mohammad Kateb. Best idea: The impact of social networking. Worst idea: Another war in the region. American decline or American renewal? American decline. More Europe or less? Less Europe. To tweet or not to tweet? Not sure.