Home / Blogs

Independence and Security Online Have Not Yet Been Won

Mike Dailey

As we, here in the United States celebrate our independence this Fourth of July, we are reminded that the liberties and freedoms that come with that independence have yet to be won online. As citizens of this country we are blessed with safety and security from threats both foreign and domestic, but those guarantees have not yet extended to our citizenship in the global Internet community. This is true not just for American citizens, but for all Internet users throughout the world.

Regardless of nationality, citizenship, color or religion we all share a commonality online in that we are all equally at risk of the threats and abuses so prevalent on the Internet. We all are equally vulnerable to spam email, equally at risk of infection from malware and spyware, and equally targeted by identity theft and online fraud. Our personally identifiable information is equally at risk online no matter where we are from or what flag we represent. As citizens of the global Internet community, we share equality in risk, because we are very similar in nature and demographics. From the operating systems installed on our PC or laptop, the web browser or email client we use, to the Internet Service Provider we connect to every day, we all share commonalities that expose us to the same types of risks and threats when online.

While we as individuals are unique in our life experiences such as education, wealth, stature and etiquette, we shed the majority of these traits once we connect to the Internet. We move from the uniqueness of an individual to a commonality brought on by the technology we use, and it is this technology that brings with it the risks to our freedom and security online. All technology used to interact on and communicate with the Internet, whether hardware, software, analog or broadband, wired or wireless, brings with it types and severities of risk to our online security and privacy.

Access to the Internet has always brought with it a set of risks, but more importantly it has provided a set of freedoms: freedom to express our ideas and opinions, freedom to learn about the world and the truths it contains, and freedom to communicate across the boundaries of territory, government, class and religion. There is power in the freedoms we have online but with this online freedom--as with personal freedom--it brings with it risk and insecurity. These are the inescapable costs of using the Internet, accepting the luxury of this online freedom also means accepting the risks.

We are all familiar with the issues of security on the web. Our online identities have always been the target of hackers and malware, but the threat has changed. With our bank accounts, medical records, and other personal information migrating to Internet-connected systems at an ever increasing rate, the online threats once thought of as nuisances are now regarded as some of the most serious risks to private businesses and governments. And while the majority of attacks seek some type of financial gain for the perpetrators, we are becoming aware of an even larger threat as we watch the maturing of state-sponsored cyber attacks and cyber terrorism.

Here in America we are fortunate to enjoy the freedom and security that much of the world takes for granted. These freedoms have for a century been the subject of intense debate, cause for civil protest, and the justification for world wars. Many of our best and brightest have given everything to ensure it, some giving more than others but each sacrificing in the name of freedom.

As a global Internet community, however, we have yet to come together as a unified people to enforce and guarantee our online security and privacy, both aspects of our online freedom. We continue to enable our own victimization with complacency and inaction. Until we as citizens of this global community take upon ourselves the responsibility to secure and protect our online identities, until we become stewards of the Internet community to use on a daily basis, until we decide to fight as hard for the privilege of freedom online as we have to secure our freedoms and liberties at home, the Internet will remain a place of risk and threat.

By Mike Dailey, IT Architect and Sr. Network Engineer
Follow CircleID on
SHARE THIS POST

If you are pressed for time ...

... this is for you. More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

Vinton Cerf, Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

Share your comments

I agree largely with what you said Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jul 05, 2011 7:46 PM PDT

However, the "come together as a unified people" is a bit too broad and general in that, while everybody who uses the internet is doubtless a "stakeholder", the actual decision making process is influenced by those who feel they have enough of a stake in the problem to devote time, money and resources to participating in internet policy and governance fora, and there are enough of those to keep people (across policy, engineering etc) occupied more or less full time, and stretch travel budgets to the limit.

Further, all countries do have a perfectly understandable need to apply their jurisdiction and their laws to their citizens, whether on the internet or in the "real world".  Yes, these can include countries that range from democracies to repressive dictatorships and banana republics. 

But the problem begins when people start taking concepts like "borderless internet", "code is law" and John Perry Barlow's "declaration of independence of cyberspace" literally.  Also the same with those who take Ben Franklin's words out of their context - the "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" quote.

Libertarianism has its limits online, just like it does in the real world, as this guy unfortunately found out, the hard way.

Meanwhile, the volume of online crime and scams kind of dwarfs the volume of online activism, and criminals are usually early, and enthusiastic adopters of all the privacy friendly technology out there.  Anonymous VPNs, daisy chained proxies, strong encryption .. you name it. 

Quite often, this also means criminals abuse the very resources that were originally set up to offer activists a safe way to express themselves without being shot or arrested, to the point where these resources get blocked, filtered or taken down, to the accompaniment of loud cries of "censorship"!!!. 

Not at all new.  Just for example,John Gilmore's gnu.toad.com was kept an open relay just so that John Perry Barlow traveling in Africa, or anyone else for that matter, could use it as his smtp server .. it ended up getting hardcoded into malware that sent out spam, and taken down by his ISP Verio, with a lot of acrimonious discussion on Declan's Politech and the other usual places.

Yes, but... Christopher Parente  –  Jul 07, 2011 7:44 AM PDT

I'm also with you in spirit. But as Suresh notes, the Internet is not a utopia that changes human nature. The online "commonality" you mention does not make us all the same, or better than we are offline.

I also find your logic a bit confusing. At one point you say:

There is power in the freedoms we have online but with this online freedom--as with personal freedom--it brings with it risk and insecurity. These are the inescapable costs of using the Internet, accepting the luxury of this online freedom also means accepting the risks.

But then you close with:

Until we as citizens of this global community take upon ourselves the responsibility to secure and protect our online identities, until we become stewards of the Internet community to use on a daily basis, until we decide to fight as hard for the privilege of freedom online as we have to secure our freedoms and liberties at home, the Internet will remain a place of risk and threat.

So, which is it? Are online risks an inescapable part of the Internet, or are online risks a result of our online complacency?

Don't take this as me debating with you, I'm just trying to give your argument a serious read.

Hi Christopher. No worries on the Mike Dailey  –  Jul 07, 2011 10:20 AM PDT

Hi Christopher.  No worries on the debate; feedback and differing opinions are always welcome.

Let me try to explain my logic a bit.  I believe that just as driving your car down the road comes with risks that must be accepted, use of the Internet requires acceptance of a certain level of risk.  You log on to the Internet fully aware of the threat from hackers, malware, identity theft, etc. just as you drive onto the roadway fully aware of drunk drivers, high speed chases, and pot holes.  You assume a level of risk in both.

However, accepting risk does not mean doing so with complacency.  When you drive you don't do so with your eyes closed or reading a magazine, trusting in other drivers to care for your safety by avoiding you, so why do we so easily trust others to protect us online?  Why do we reuse passwords on multiple sites, but expect those sites to ensure that our passwords are never leaked?  Why do we store personally identifiable information on our Internet connected PCs, knowing that a single instance of malware may expose that information to misuse?

We tend to take a very lackadaisical approach to our online security, a much different approach than we do our physical security.  All of life—both online and offline—comes with risk, but the level of risk directly relates to our action or inaction.  We expect ISPs, web sites, hospitals, banks, and the like to secure our data but we too easily fail to enact safeguards of our own. 

I hope this helps to explain my view on the issue, Christopher, and I really appreciate the feedback.

An afterthought... Mike Dailey  –  Jul 07, 2011 10:43 AM PDT

As an afterthought to my reply I wanted to provide a link to another article I posted entitled Getting Hacked: Why It’s Probably Your Fault.  This went a little more in-depth as to why I feel we are contributing to our own lack of security online.  It might help to provide a better answer to the questions posed by Christopher.

Now that is clear Christopher Parente  –  Jul 07, 2011 1:50 PM PDT

Mike — thanks, that analogy and that post are very clear, people need to do more personally to secure their online activities. No doubt that's true.

It gets murkier for me when you mix that point with political freedoms in the U.S.

To post comments, please login or create an account.

Related

Topics

DNS Security

Sponsored byAfilias

Cybersecurity

Sponsored byVerisign

IP Addressing

Sponsored byAvenue4 LLC

New TLDs

Sponsored byAfilias

Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign

Whois

Sponsored byWhoisXML API