A few days ago over on Forbes, Andy Greenberg recounted the keynote speech by former general Michael Hayden at the Black Hat security conference, focusing in on a fascinating quote:
“There’s a distinction between the other four domains [land, air, sea, space] and cyber. God made four, you made the last one. God did a better job. You guys made the cyber domain look like the north German plain. Then you bitch and moan when you get invaded. On the Internet, we are all Poland. We all get invaded on the Web. The inherent geography of this domain is that everything plays to the offense.”
From a military perspective, he’s absolutely right. But I maintain that despite the impossibility to defend, it wouldn’t be the internet any other way.
You see, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in a place where the internet does have the ‘defensive choke points’ the general later suggests would make it a better design for security. These are places where authorities can and do position defenses to defend the public from things it deems dangerous to society at large. The patriotic and financially rewarding path for a hacker is to work surreptitiously with the authorities against carefully selected targets. There are even enough controls on monetary flows to prevent citizens from being duped by those Nigerian emails from dying widows of rebel colonels or expat billionaire relatives we didn’t know we had who are trying to give us all their money if we’ll just send them a bit first.
Poland it is not, but a digital utopia? If you like Chinese food perhaps. The problem with making an internet that governments can defend is that, well, having the government (or anyone) sit between you and information isn’t necessarily a good thing because sooner or later the guardian’s interests and yours will not be aligned. Of course, guys like General Hayden are the good guys, the ones amongst us who willingly plant themselves between good and evil and protect our way of life. But not everyone who would find such a defensible internet useful would have altruistic motives.
The internet geography can never be defended by a top down organization with sole responsibility for such, it can only be properly defended by an increasingly aware citizenry – both corporate and individual. That power has yet to be fully unleashed.
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