Twenty-one years ago, Andy Grove entitled his obligatory CEO How-To business book "Only the Paranoid Survive." At the time, the title was tongue-in-cheek, more akin to "if something can go wrong, it will" than to "let's wear tin foil hats."
A lot has changed since then, most of it a direct result of the digital revolution that Grove and Intel helped create. Consider what's happened over the past few years:
- The NSA has been exposed for spying on just about everyone.
- Facebook has been collating and selling data on all its users.
- Amazon has been exposed as using Alexa to spy inside people's homes.
- Millions of "Internet of Things" devices are hacked into spy devices.
- Routers have been hacked and hijacked for use in cyberwarfare.
- Key financial institutions have had their consumer data stolen.
- Chinese companies have added spyware into their devices and chips.
- North Korea hacked into Sony and destroyed/published sensitive data.
- Cars have been shut down remotely by relatively simple hacks.
- Government systems (like the IRS) have been repeatedly penetrated.
At the same time, our elected officials (of both parties) are unable to understand the basics of how computers work, making it impossible for them to appropriately legislate or regulate what happens on the Web.
Under the circumstances, it's crazy not to be paranoid, which is why Elon Musk's recent statements that Tesla is under attack are completely believable.
There's no question that the oil companies have the motive, the means, and the amorality to scuttle Tesla. Ditto with the short-sellers. Ditto with China, which wants the electronic vehicle market for itself.
Just as important, all those actors know that even if and when they're caught red-handed, there will be no consequences. Oil companies and financial institutions repeatedly broken the law without anyone of importance being arrested, much less convicted.
Please note that none of the above is a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are idiotic--all of them--because there's no such thing as a secure system anywhere. To remain secret a conspiracy would have to avoid the Internet completely.
So, then, what can we do about this sorry state of affairs?
First of all, let's continue to give Musk the benefit of the doubt. If he believes that Tesla is under attack from outside forces, he's being appropriately paranoid, given today's business and political environment.
Long term, though, I think there's only one remedy and it's a long shot: nominate and elect candidates who 1) refuse to take corporate money and 2) are millennials who have a clue about how the Web works.
I'll end with a brief anecdote. A while back, I had a carpenter over to the house to make some repairs and while he was hammering a board into the deck, he called me a "paranoid weirdo"... in Morse code.
Actually that's an old Emo Philips joke, but it seemed appropriate, since this isn't exactly the cheeriest column I've ever posted.