9.6.07

Bring on 2084?

I'm not sure how I feel about a recent Wired article on contemporary internet security issues. The rhetorical side of my brain sees a lot of metaphors flying around, with significant [disastrous] implications. But another part of my brain sees the internet as potentially dangerous, and in need of security.

Let me break this down: as a left-oriented academic, I see the internet as opening the possibility of ideal democracy. Free access to all. Unmitigated exchange of information.

But as a right-oriented investor, I see the internet as a playground for hackers, crackers, spammers, and other seedy characters. Being a victim of identity-theft doesn't help this argument (apparently, according to Capital One, I spent several thousand dollars in a state I have never visited. Investigation pending).

In the article, security experts are calling for government involvment in internet security, essentially, IP experts are throwing their hands-up in surrender. Now I know this doesn't represent all internet security professionals, but Wired is a fairly liberal and certainly pro-technology publication. If this were Fox News or the Indy Star, I'd dismiss it. But its not.

For those without the time to RTFA, experts are most concerned with bots capable of unknowingly wire several / hundreds / thousands of computers together to perform malicious operations. Some solutions, such as ingress filtering, are pretty unobtrusive. But consider:

A few audience members argued seriously that computer users should have to take a test to get an internet license, maintain botnet insurance and have their machines inspected for information-super highway worthiness. Others countered that individuals shouldn't have to know how to secure their own computers -- the machines should simply be more inherently secure.

An eBay employee suggested that a system like the United States credit-scoring system would be better. Every PC user would get a score based on the security of their system, and the computer would transmit that score in every packet it sends out. Websites could then judge what level of access to give based on that security score.

The metaphor here interests me: it operates on a kind of catachresis, crossing tenor and vehicle to discuss the "information super-highway" as a physical place, appropriate for physical laws. So much for the idealism, welcome to the industrialization of the real.

Without coming off as too much of an idealist, this vision of licenses, scores, insurances, frightens me a bit. Cynthia Selfe has already warned us that we need to pay attention--specifically, pay attention to those people who aren't online, who cannot afford it. The internet creates a significant economic hurdle for those looking to enter the first world or the middle class (perhaps? does the 21st century American middle class revolve around computer ability?). Now we are talking about a series of institutional and economic hurdles (can you imagine how much internet insurance would cost? I wouldn't be surprised if State Farm starts advertising tomorrow).

I know that many people, especially those that post on places such as /., will consider this as illusionary as WMDs, a scare tacit to transfer control from the bottom to the top. Perhaps it is. But the threat to me seems very real, especially given how little most of us actually know about our computers. If this all seems crazy, then go ahead and call up the task manager on your PC. Unless you know what every operation on that list does, then you should care.

3 comments:

Casey said...

"Left-oriented?" That sounds a little wishy-washy.

;)

brian said...

I think it's weird that the scores would evaluate the machines, but not the people running them. And who's going to evaluate the evaluators?

Casey said...

Brian!!! -- I hope you realize that was plagiarism, straight out of chapter 132, "The Symphony":

"Who's to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?"