Friday, December 26, 2014

The Future of the Internet: Cyberwar?

Imagine a World Wide Web that is no longer world wide but regional, each region governed by a consortium of countries or perhaps only one powerful country.  According to Gordon M. Goldstein's article in the July/August 2014 The Atlantic, "The End of the Internet?" this could be our future and we have the NSA and Edward Snowden to thank for it.

We are now seeing some interesting responses from Edward Snowden's actions and his work at the NSA.  In Europe especially, leaders are not particularly happy about what the NSA has been doing.  As the internet has grown and connectedness has increased, so has the friction among countries concerning control over the global network.  The average internet user won't see this friction for a while, but we're already beginning to see hints.  For example, the recent movement by Internet Service Providers to charge for premium access that spawned the Net Neutrality counter-movement.

Goldstein lays out how the regional structure would look and work. He envisions the possibility of cyberwar over the boundaries or spheres of influence.  But don't we already have cyberwar?

Maybe you haven't been paying attention, although the Target hack last year probably should have captured your attention. It was only one example of hacks that have been happening for years, and hackers that keep internet and computer security specialists extremely busy. China has been probing computer networks in the West for years, also, and Russian hackers seem to go after banks and credit cards.  The point is, we're not as secure as we think we are.

Photo: Wikipedia
The most recent example of this cyberwar is the hack of Sony Pictures and subsequent release of all sorts of embarrassing and damaging documents, including also the release of 5 Sony movies online. The hackers claimed they were responding to Sony Pictures' planned release of the movie The Interview, about two TV journalists who land an interview with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, and the CIA recruit them to assassinate him. Clearly the hackers and their sponsor(s) don't appreciate the American sense of humor or the American freedom to poke fun at American leaders.  I've been trying to figure out if American cinema has satirized any other world leaders before, and I'd love some help with examples since I cannot think of any.

If North Korea is truly the sponsor of the Sony Pictures hack, they are now a member of a club of cyberwar fighters on the internet.  Is America a member?  We'd be really stupid not to be.  And while arms dealers offline make millions of dollars smuggling arms to countries all over the world, I'm wondering who's making the money from the cyberwar online.  Defense contractors who specialize in security systems for networks? It doesn't seem like some hackers are that interested in money, and yet others target personal information and credit cards.

I think the future of the internet will need to include treaties between hackers and sovereign countries.  Or find some way to recruit the hackers to "fight" the cyberwar for us. At any rate, for internet users on a local level, we may begin to see more fallout from all this cyber warfare in the not too distant future, but what form will it take?  Will the internet remain open to all or be split up into regions as Goldstein's article suggests is already beginning to happen?  How will security measures change for shopping websites, blogging websites, and corporate websites?
While the Sony Pictures hack is certainly not the beginning of the cyberwar, it has probably brought the war forward in a way no one expected.  It makes me wonder: what would cyber peace look like? 

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