Internet freedom and internet security are two sides to the same coin:
- Social networks are powerful tools for organizing “Revolutions 2.0,” as well as convenient intelligence-gathering sites
- To promote openness, Wikileaks and its clones operate in secrecy
- Human rights NGO’s use the web to expose abuse, but must protect themselves from cyber-retribution
- Crisis mapping, a key tool for humanitarian response, requires secure protocols to keep potentially sensitive information safe
In the midst of all this cyber-sniping, some are calling for a “Geneva Convention” to outline the rules of cyberwarfare, spare “civilian targets” and inject some ethics into battle. Others say the “war” analogy doesn’t really work when dealing with an enemy can’t be seen or even tracked all that easily. The “Stuxnet” worm that attacked Iranian nuclear facilities, for example, was designed to cover the evidence of its own existence. It went about wrecking gyroscopes with commands to speed up and slow down while simultaneously generating data reporting that everything was operating as it should.
Meanwhile, the award for innovation in mobile data distribution goes to the Jihadists,for whom Bluetooth has become a “…a distribution mechanism of choice. ” From crunching video files to developing special encryption-friendly operating systems, they’ve got it down.
Taking the opposite tack, Egyptian-Googler-turned-freedom-fighter Wael Ghonim and a network-savvy generation placed their bets on openness, struggling to keep a nascent revolution alive through posts on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the 18 days of unprecedented protest, the government tried everything it could to throttle communication, including shutting down the country’s internet and cell phone services.
Despite the limits, the “Facebook revolution” prevailed, not only sweeping a despot from office, but also shredding in the process Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis on activismand the “strong ties” of personal friendships versus the “weak ties” of internet networks. Clearly, is not an either/or choice, but a powerful cross-reinforcing combination.
Indeed, at this point, the only force that could possibly bring down the internet and put an end to this furious, sometimes frightening, often marvelous flowering of digital communication is an extra-terrestrial event: a solar storm. And it could happen. After years of quietly shining in the distance 93 million miles away, the sun is starting what scientists dryly describe as a “more active phase.” Tongues of particle-charged plasma are reaching across the heavens to short circuits here on Earth. In 1859, a solar storm fried telegraph lines. Today, that same storm would cause an estimated $2 trillion worth of “initial damage,” which could take a decade or more to fix. What Mubarek couldn’t manage, Apollo can do in a blink.
- “Twitter’s Biz Stone on Starting a Revolution” (print/audio) / NPR/Fresh Air
- “2010 Report on Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks” / Berkman Center, Harvard
- “Malcolm Gladwell is #Wrong” by Maria Popova / ChangeObserver
- and more!