As I closed my browser window, I was startled by the message that flashed across my screen: “The FBI has seized and frozen access to your computer,” it read. “You have downloaded or distributed copyrighted content (music, movies, or software).” The message continued: I could pay $300 to unlock my computer, or the FBI would bring charges against me.
I didn’t end up paying a cent – the message was simply a scam, trying to intimidate users who might think they’d been caught red-handed with illegally downloaded files. My computer didn’t have any illicit material on it, and within a few minutes I was able to close the window and remove the virus that had caused it to show up.
That message seemed very real – it threatened technological and legal repercussions if I didn’t pay up – but it was an empty threat. It had no force of law behind it, and no real power to compel me to do anything.
I thought of this experience last week as I read news of cyberattacks taking place between Russia and Ukraine. The two countries have not only made military maneuvers around the Crimean Peninsula, but have also apparently initiated online attacks against each other – both Ukrainian and Russian government sites have been taken offline by powerful dedicated denial-of-service attacks. As I read the news, I wanted to know how to pray about this development, and it occurred to me that these attacks don’t have any more legitimacy than the scam that briefly took hold of my computer. They may seem to be more powerful, more sophisticated, capable of more damage – but there’s no spiritual law behind them either.
That doesn’t mean we should blithely ignore news of cyberattacks. Whether organized by nation-states or carried out by lone hackers, these attacks do damage to computer systems around the world – but it does mean that we can address them in our prayers, recognizing that these threats are not outside the scope of God’s control. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, used “Principle” as a synonym for God, as when she wrote, “God is the divine Principle of all that represents Him and of all that really exists” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 272). Principle includes qualities such as order, integrity, and law – it brings to mind God’s guiding, governing qualities. This divine guidance isn’t limited; it encompasses every facet of our lives, keeping us safe and secure whether we’re online or not.
Our insistence through prayer that God is present and is acting to keep us safe opens the way for us to see this Principle in action. God gives insight to security workers whose job it is to detect and prevent cyberattacks. He protects the safety and rights of citizens living in countries that find themselves under technological siege. And perhaps most important, He dissolves a mentality that would lead an individual or state to launch destructive attacks against computer systems in the first place. An aggressive mind-set doesn’t come from divine Principle; it’s not rooted in lasting spiritual qualities such as order and security. Through prayer, we can expect to see such a mind-set loosen its hold around the world, lessening instances of cyberattacks and computer crime.
It’s a comfort to me to know that my prayers can play some small role in promoting online security – and even in ending the cyberattacks between Russia and Ukraine. Long before the advent of the Internet, Mary Baker Eddy wrote that “those who discern Christian Science will hold crime in check. They will aid in the ejection of error. They will maintain law and order …” (Science and Health, p. 97). This maintenance of law and order certainly encompasses not only the offline realm, but the online as well.