Everything you do on the ‘net is monitored and moneyed, generally without you knowing it! A sobering thought isn’t it, and as the tendency today is to use internet for virtually everything, from filling out tax forms, banking, shopping, cooking recipes, to video calls with the family, etc, you’d be right to feel concerned about the secureness of internet as well as its neutrality. I watched a documentary on German TV the other day and it did a good job of covering a variety of issues concerning security online: Institutional eavesdropping, pirating, spam/scam/phishing, hacking, hijacking, computer viruses (real, fictional or hoax – as much a pain as the real thing), backdoors, clickbaits, malware… and the Dark Net. It was all very interesting and showed just what a thriving enterprise exploiting other people’s data can be, a very disturbing concept for the everyday user, or at least it should be!
I’m itching to slip words some choice German words such as “Zeitgeist” and “Angst” into this post, especially as Internet really does capture the essence of what society is all about today, and internet security is one of society’s biggest “Angsts” and if it isn’t it should be. I’m not one to cry “Wolf” but while we, the users, are all interfacing, connecting, clicking, liking and sharing some entrepreneurial venture is already collecting, mining, analyzing, transforming and selling this data. If it stopped at that I wouldn’t mind, after all business is business and how do you think certain Social Media networks reportedly earn up to 6 bn$ a year in revenue? But it doesn’t stop there and if legitimate internet enterprises can earn billions in revenue imagine what the illegitimate ones can earn. I’m not even sure if anything other than estimations has been published on the subject.
With that in mind, it makes you wonder what the good guys are doing and what actually comes out of those “White Hat” conferences in Las Vegas! Most internet users, or at least the more attentive ones, have heard of White Hats as well as Black Hats and what they do. They (we) have also heard of Honeypots, surveillance technologies, Web 2.0, alternative web browsers and alternative-internet, i.e. Tor. So when you learn that from the moment you switch on your computer/network connection some bug or malignancy is actively trying to turn your PC/laptop/tablet/phablet/smartphone into a relay for criminal activities, a pile of smoking plastic or both, it either makes you want to go all techie and hunt the threat out, or go all “Who cares” about it, reasoning that as nobody else seems to be doing anything constructive about it, why should you.
Wall-E or Blade Runner?
Putting the “Who cares” attitude to one side, it’s wise (and you’re wise because you’ve been there and got the T-shirt) to keep your PC/Appliance clean and updated, although it is recommended to let the machine do it instead. It’s also recommended to keep your anti-virus updated (check) and your firewall fine-tuned (check), that you install the latest security patches (check) and regularly change your passwords (and… check). That said, when you learn that your machine is, anyway, constantly being pinged, pounded and pummeled (if you don’t believe me then switch on Peerblock, make a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy the show!), that your firewall is constantly being tested and that some of the security patches you are supposed to install are potential risks in themselves, it does make you wonder what the future of Internet is going to be. Personally, and being an optimist, I see the future as shown in the film “Wall-E”, rather than in “Blade Runner”, with mankind somehow muddling through until a solution presents itself rather than attacking the heart of the problem.
Who polices the Police?
The more than averagely interested, read perceptive user does what he or she can to keep their offline digital environment clean and healthy and make sure it stays that way for as long as possible. However, as soon as that same user goes online he or she becomes a digital consumer and a fair target for any web merchant looking to make a buck, honest or otherwise. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of users understand this and are concerned about what internet providers and software makers can do to safeguard their clients’ online activities. However, when you read that a new software can break CAPTCHAs from Google, PayPal it really does look as though online security firms are perpetually one step behind the problem and ask if institutionalizing online protection might not be the answer to the problem, even if, as some may argue, that this would be as good as letting the fox into the chicken run. The problem is that they are already in there, alongside their Doppelgängers.
Is the Dark Net Web 2.0 gone wrong?
The premise of Web 2.0 being a better structured, extra-optimized, user-friendlier, as well as being a more in line with the needs of the (early) 21st century version of the initial World Wide Web structure leaves me skeptical as I’m not sure its supposed enhancements are really perceptible to or applicable by the average user. I also find the term Web 2.0 wrongly employed, particularly as a sales argument, and often used without a full understanding of its purpose or modus operandi ….and no, I do not agree that, as stated in Mr. O’Reilly’s article, blogging replaces personal websites. I have both and have created a synergy and complementarity between them… I even auto published two books as a result of this “complementarity”.
The original WWW started out as a genial way for academics and scientists to circulate information over great distances, swiftly and safely and the “Tor” programme was invented by the US military to safely transfer data using a particular form of encryption. If the Dark Net exists could it be its because certain internet users, frustrated with Internet and the Web 2.0 of today look for an alternative web environment, free from prying and crass exploitation? The fact that the Dark Net is now mostly associated with the darker aspects of human nature is a sad, regrettable fact and one that should be remedied, and the bad elements sanitized. Perhaps Web 2.0 shouldn’t be so synonymous with Google AdSense, Search Engine Optimization and Cost per Click, but more with sharing an attitude, participation and trust, not to mention equity and equitable. After all if commercializing online data is going to become an integral part of digital life today shouldn’t the user also benefit from it?