"There is a war under way for control of the Internet, and every day brings word of new clashes on a shifting and widening battlefront."
"World War 3.0" will happen in Dubai this December at their World Trade Centre and an article by Michael Joseph Gross in the May 2012 issues Vanity Fair explains why this is one of the most important events in 2012.
Diplomats from 193 countries will converge there to renegotiate a United Nations treaty called the International Telecommunications Regulations. The sprawling document, which governs telephone, television, and radio networks, may be extended to cover the Internet, raising questions about who should control it, and how.The United States and other Western nations want to preserve the status quo for the Internet governance: "run by a small group of technical nonprofit and volunteer organizations, most of them based in the United States." While other nations, such as Russia, China, Brazil, India, Iran, and others want to place more restrictions on how the Internet can be used by people.
All of them have implemented or experimented with more intrusive monitoring of online activities than the U.S. is publicly known to practice. A number of countries have openly called for the creation of a “new global body” to oversee online policy. At the very least, they’d like to give the United Nations a great deal more control over the Internet.
The Vanity Fair article surveys the lay of the battlefield and explains what will be the issues fought over in Dubai come this December.
The first is sovereignty: by definition, a boundary-less system flouts geography and challenges the power of nation-states. The second is piracy and intellectual property: information wants to be free, as the hoary saying goes, but rights-holders want to be paid and protected. The third is privacy: online anonymity allows for creativity and political dissent, but it also gives cover to disruptive and criminal behavior—and much of what Internet users believe they do anonymously online can be tracked and tied to people’s real-world identities. The fourth is security: free access to an open Internet makes users vulnerable to various kinds of hacking, including corporate and government espionage, personal surveillance, the hijacking of Web traffic, and remote manipulation of computer-controlled military and industrial processes.
According to Vint Cerf, one of the 'fathers of the Internet', two things prevent the Internet from being secure. First, "the only technology that would have allowed for such security was still classified at the time." Second, "the system kind of got loose" before security could get implemented. So, Cerf and other Internet engineers have been playing catch-up ever since. Cerf believes many of today's problem with the Internet come from a basic design feature: the net was designed to ignore national boundaries.
The Internet was "intended to deal with a military problem", Cerf explains. It was designed to allow soldiers to communicate without disclosing their location to their enemies. The system Cerf and others fashioned created a decentralized network where messages use addresses that are not linked to a physical locale.
The only central point on the Internet is the Domain Name System (DNS). DNS saves everyone from having to type an Internet Protocol address to reach place on the Internet. So instead of typing 184.108.40.206 in the web browser location, people can just type amazon.com instead. DNS effectively controls where people can get to on the Internet.
Today, DNS is maintained by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and Cerf was an early chairman of the organization.
According to Jeff Moss, chief security officer for ICANN and a founder of Def Con, a yearly hackers conference in Las Vegas, the root of today's problems with the Internet stem from copyright issues. "Before the Internet, when copyrighted information existed mostly in the form of physical objects, it was inconvenient to violate copyright law, for purely practical reasons." Digitization and the Internet combined to form an easy way to share data between people, regardless of who owned its intellectual rights.
The citizen and consumer combined to "form a complicated new species". People used "free access to intellectual property to express themselves to one another" and corporations and governments use this form of expression to make money and gather intelligence.
Privacy advocates sounded alarms about the problem, but the 2009 Green Revolution protests in Iran were a major turning point. The ease with which the Iranian government spied on its own citizens—using techniques that anyone could deploy, with free and open-source software—showed the fundamental insecurity of all unencrypted data (which is almost all data) on the Internet. Iranian-government authorities were able to read citizens’ e-mails, diagram their social networks, and keep watch on almost anything else they wanted to observe. The spectacle of that violation, Moss says, underscored for everyone that the character of the Internet had fundamentally changed. It had evolved from, as he puts it, a place “to put pictures of your cat” to a place where “your liberty’s at stake.”Governments today can hijack DNS either by blocking traffic or routing it to a more desirable location. Moss, in his role as ICANN security officer, is trying to make such blocking impossible. "I’m curious if it’s fixable," he said. "Everybody always calls it rebuilding the airplane in flight. We can’t stop and reboot the Internet."
Corporate ambitions are a huge issue, but “the real War for the Net,” Cerf believes, “is governments who want to control it, and that includes our own government. If you think about protecting the population and observing our conventional freedoms, the two are really very much in tension.” Cerf cites the debate over the U.S.A. Patriot Act, enacted in 2001, which greatly expanded the U.S. government’s domestic-surveillance authority. He also cites efforts by Middle Eastern governments to control online communications, particularly as the Arab Spring began to unfold, in 2011. And then there’s the vast example of China, whose Great Firewall puts severe limits on what Chinese users can view online.Corporations and governments want control over our Internet and most are not pleased with the changes Moss is trying to bring about. Its not just China and Iran that want more control. The United States is being pushed by some corporations to place more authoritarian controls on the Internet. Congress this past winter tried to pass Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Passage of either of those bills would have made it possible for the U.S. government to use DNS blocking "to prevent Americans from seeing unauthorized postings of copyrighted material on social-media or search-engine sites". The same techniques used by Iran to cut off their part of the 'net from the rest of the world.
Privacy and Security
Dan Kaminsky, a DNS expert, security analyst, and, so it happens — "a close friend of Jeff Moss", is working to "augment passwords with other ways for Internet users to prove their identities that are more robust, easier to use, and harder to crack."
Kaminsky and others are working to be sure that these authentication systems preserve the qualities of privacy and online anonymity—even though anonymity has contributed to, if not created, almost every problem at issue in the War for the Internet. The task at hand is finding some way to square the circle: a way to have both anonymity and authentication—and therefore both generative chaos and the capacity for control—without absolute insistence on either.
The problem is, there is no agreement on how these new standards would work, be applied, and who gets to be the gatekeeper. The world's governments have differing views on what is "civility, incivility, and invasion of privacy" making a global standard nigh impossible. "The only thing everyone agrees on," says Kaminsky, "is that the Internet is making everyone money now and it’s got to keep working."
Meanwhile, corporations and governments are walling off their own areas of the Internet "where all who enter will have to prove their real-world identities." The argument is that authenticated identity will make people "better behaved", which I translate into "less uppity", less trolling, and more paranoid. The belief is people will pay for, instead of just copy, digital content if their identity is known. Cerf scoffs at this idea:
“When I hear senators and congressmen complaining about anonymous speech, I want to stop them and say, you should read your own history. The anonymous tracts that objected to British rule and rules had a great deal to do with the American Revolution. Weren’t you paying attention in civics?”Vint Cerf, Jeff Moss, Dan Kaminsky, and others "think that the Internet should be allowed to evolve on its own, the way human societies always have." They predict that if left alone, the Internet will "stratify". There will be the Internet of today where "anyone can enter, anonymously or not, and for free" — an Internet of risks and rewards. But, there will also be walled communities where security is traded for privacy — places where corporations and governments conduct their business. Where people go will be up to them. But —
Aside from wealth or arcane knowledge, the only other guarantor of security will be isolation. Some people will pioneer new ways of life that minimize their involvement online. Still others will opt out altogether—to find or create a little corner of the planet where the Internet does not reach. Depending on how things go, that little corner could become a very crowded place. And you’d be surprised at how many of the best-informed people about the Internet have already started preparing for the trip.
World War 3.0
So in December, the world's governments are going to try to reshape how the decentralized Internet works. There is going to be an effort to more tightly control the center.
At least three big issues are very likely to be on the table in Dubai, and there’s nothing light about them. One is taxation—a “per click” levy on international Internet traffic. Western countries and business organizations oppose such a tax, as you would expect. China and many Third World countries favor it, saying the funds would help build the Internet in developing countries.The Internet is rapidly changing and it is difficult for even those plugged-in to high-level Internet policy meetings to keep up to speed. "If you’re using an analogy of Internet wars," Moss said, "the battles are coming faster." Stay informed and stay vigilant.
A second issue is data privacy and cyber-security. Authoritarian governments want to tie people’s real names and identities to online activity, and they want international law to permit national encryption standards to allow government surveillance.
The third issue is Internet management. Last year, Russia, China, and some pliant allies jointly proposed a U.N. General Assembly resolution (which failed) suggesting the creation of a global information-security “code of conduct” and—as if declaring open season on ICANN and the other non-governmental groups currently in charge—asserting that “policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of states.”