Internet Security versus Anonymity and “’Gimme it Free”

Cloud computing has established distribution pathways that are more cost efficient and that reach more customers where and when they want entertainment or information.  Connecting the clouds to customers, faster telecom (wireless and wireline) will create more value for users and more productivity to entertainment and information producers.

Businesses and manufacturers are increasingly relying on heavy-duty Internet infrastructure for the coordination, connection and development of production, digital intelligence, smart machines and other aspects, in what GE calls the Internet of things.  Connectivity among these items promises less drag on creativity and higher productivity in the manufacturing and heavy infrastructure sectors.  Beyond the industrial connections, 32% of the world’s population now uses the Internet.

But there is an increased vulnerability, ascriminal and military hackers have risen to new heights of sophistication.  Stuxnet, a highly sophisticated computer worm designed to damage Iran’s nuclear aspirations, proved the ability to make “digital” weapons a threat to any infrastructure that is connected online.  This means that our control systems that operate power generation and distribution, dams, navigation locks, some bridges, and petroleum pipelines, can become vulnerable targets for our military foes.  At a retail level, conventional anti-virus software has fallen to an embarrassing level of effectiveness, catching just 20% of recently minted viruses.  As a result, Internet thieves are now able to attack, almost at will.

To thwart criminal and military hackers we need a reliable identification system for each machine, chunk of software, piece of content, and each person in the Internet.  Those strong identifications would make it impossible to spoof something that you aren’t.   For example, on the Internet “Peggy” could not successfully pass herself off as “Jennifer.”  And a hacker in Turkmenistan could not insert executable software into my laptop without suitable Internet security credentials.

To create this more secure Internet, it will take years of cooperation and investment by those who run the many pieces of the Internet.  Some protocols such as IPv6 will be needed.  IPv6 is a protocol that provides the Internet with many more identities or destinations – as will be needed to identify each machine, piece of content, piece of software, persons and so on.  Today’s tolerance for anonymous users and resources would give way to a system rooted in explicit permissions associated with specific identities.

At a recent meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) there was opposition to suggestions that countries be able to either control free speech or prosecute Internet users.   To prevent tyrannical regimes from punishing their domestic free speakers, some degree of anonymity on the Internet would need to be supported.  That will thwart strong identification that’s central to better security.  We agree with the sentiment of free speech for all, but it is ironic how few countries permit free speech – in real life — on topics embarrassing to their government.

Also at the ITU meeting support was voiced for “Net-Neutrality,” a “gimme-it-free” beatitude of leftists.  Net neutrality holds that carriers who pay to build the physical Internet (routers, pipes, software and trunks to deliver and collect traffic) should not be permitted to charge more to Internet users who stuff the Internet with higher volumes of traffic.  Network operators must be able to recover investments if anyone expects them to invest to deliver information faster or with superior security.

Unfortunately that means consumer’s Internet security stands behind free speech for those who don’t already have it internationally, and comes second to our homegrown “gimme it free” culture.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida and following public policy from a consumer’s perspective.

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