This is a post series on cyber crime. For more posts click here or the cybercrime tag below.
There is an old Roman saying; “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” It means, who will watch the watchers? It’s appropriate when considering the internet and the web. Heretofore the web standards and protocol development has been more or less a mutual agreement between interested parties who by and large had no real interest in doing anything that would create problems in real society. They just wanted to make their wonderful toy work. They were idealistic and didn’t really see the potentials of the dark side.
So when the very same idealists get together to design a web that governments can’t control, I have to ask myself if they have considered all the potential consequences of that. The dark web is not a happy place for most people. It’s not a place that people want or feel a need to go. But what happens if, like in my case, the dark web becomes a mechanism for doing injury. I didn’t want to participate in the darknet, I was extorted and forced to go there.
If you want a web without government, you are going to have to be more than idealistic.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, believes that the way the web works in the present day “completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”
The Next Web reports: “Edward Snowden showed we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web,” said Brewster Kahle, who heads up Internet Archive. And he’s not wrong: governments across the globe keep an eye on what their citizens are accessing online and some censor content on the Web in an effort to control what they think.
To that end, Berners-Lee, Kahle and other pioneers of the modern Web are brainstorming ideas for a new kind of information network that can’t be controlled by governments or powered by megacorporations like Amazon and Google.
The same encryption that keeps communications private can be used by bad actors to hurt people without any way of redress. That’s the lesson of ransomware. Unless there are mechanisms to prevent that sort of thing from happening, any attempt to provide a web free of government interference will quickly become an electronic Somalia, with electronic islands that only connect to those they trust. Followed shortly after by total collapse as the infrastructure that supports is cannot be maintained by the islands. Consider what happened to the Roman Empire as it collapsed.
I think that one problem for those of us from the US and other Western countries is that we are used to living in high trust societies. That’s especially true of those of us that came from the mid post war period between the 1960’s and 1970’s. Even with the cold war, if you were a kid then, it was pretty good. So those of us who grew up then are used to living in the web of trust.
I suppose that especially for academics to believe that the invisible web still exists even as you work to destroy the underpinnings that allow that web to exist. From the way the people above talk, all they are worried about is the intrusiveness of governments and business, especially Google and Facebook. A look at the EFF webpage bears this out. What’s strange is that many of the people come from institutions of governments like CERN or are part of organizations like Tor that are funded by the government. And for all the talk of evil NSA or other attacks, there is nothing on the EFF about ransomware. I’m going to point out that it wasn’t the government that screwed up my data and from what I’ve been able to determine the people the US government has been going after are people such as pedophiles that most people probably wouldn’t have a problem with the government sanctioning.
With the fuss over science fiction’s Hugo awards and the fallout I’ve learned the sort of stuff that can go on insular communities that separate themselves from the norm and don’t want government prying. In SF’s case it was pedophilia. In the webs case it’s going to be malware.
Unless the freeweb people like the FEE face up to the malware and other bad stuff using the anonymous web and take steps to clean up, they are going to have one of two things happen, neither pleasant. One is absolute government control and takeover of the internet, or 2. the internet fragments into “trust nets.” It may be some combination of both.
With the evolution of malware into something that actually destroys data, there will no longer be much choice. Greater risk means higher walls and more walls inevitably leads to more government.
99.9% of internet users are not compuphiles. They are not enamored with the elegance of a good hack or clean code. They want a safe internet to buy stuff and watch their content. They want to be able to search web pages and not be too concerned that they will lose all their data. That’s especially true of content creators. We want to, with regular security precautions, to not have to worry that the wrong click can destroy years of work. Ransomware does exactly that and if the people in charge of the darknet don’t start to face up to fact and reality and this goes on, nobody’s going to like what happens next.
Ransomware update of the week from Bleeping computer: