A Howling Mess

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Greetings curious, capable traveler. Believe it or not, the Internet was conceived as a way to decentralize power and control. The goal was to better defend against attack. The decentralized power and control doesn’t refer to politics of course. The intention was to put control over our electric grid, communications and defensive capabilities beyond the reach of attackers and electronically connected in times of need by a different kind of grid, the Internet.

We blew it. We’ve essentially taken all our collective eggs and put them in one basket. Our cloud uploads, family pictures, pirated music, credit card information, electric substation access, nuclear facility backdoors and dating websites are all mingling around on the same grid. It cannot work that way. It is convenient.

The Mindset Problem

And there’s the problem: Work, and; convenience. We want desperately to connect work and convenience. We can envision connecting them either way for a variety of reasons, but this isn’t a theoretical post; this is how convenience and work are combined right now to undermine the best purpose of the Internet. You know what’s convenient? Being pushed around in a grocery shopping cart; being fed through a tube; the short view and the short game and ‘means’ without ‘ends.’

These examples suit babies, people somehow invalidated, the greedy, hustlers and something that doesn’t exist in real life, respectively. I said, “Greetings curious, capable traveler,” at the outset on purpose. I write this on the final day of 2018 with a calendar turn clearly in view. We should strive in 2019 for less convenience where work and Internet is concerned.

The Myth that the inconvenience of an attack makes us safe

The L.A.Times reports a successful attack on communications delaying numerous national publications because they all share a production platform LINK The systems are infected by malware coming from outside the United States and then, as cyber security teams scramble to restore control and rid operations of problems, reinfected. This is not decentralizing power or control. Sharing a production platform was convenient and surly saved millions of dollars as readership dropped and funds became precious. It was a wise move in the short view. The attack happens to be a terribly devious one with the ability to attack again on its own.

Most of us can’t imagine working that hard to make something so destructive – it’s probably just a Hollywood plot device. It probably won’t happen so we don’t need to defend against it. Most people also don’t win the Lottery. It’s a fact. Most people spend a lot of time preparing to win the Lottery. (We can be really weird.) The Gambler’s Fallacy among other psychological goodies cuts both ways.

However, even decentralized systems are built with similar tools. Websites on and off the www “web” (a public facing section of the Internet with specific protocols) are put together and uploaded with the same reliable, free tools. The security of those tools has never really been scrutinized – what if spyware or data leaks or backdoors have been programmatically assigned with every website those tools helped build? “Eek,” doesn’t begin to cover the reaction. In January, the EU starts running Bug Bounties on Free and Open Source Software like Notepad++, PuTTY, VLC Media Player, 7-zip, Drupal, PHP Symfony, Apache Tomcat and others.

Tens of thousands of Euros are being awarded to successful finds between HackerOne and Intigriti/Deloitte. It’s a huge deal. Even if you don’t come into contact with any of the software listed above, there is then realistically only ONE degree of separation between you and the potential threats. That’s hardly a safe enough distance for you to ignore. But why worry about it? Because not worrying about it is convenient. Convenience is to be avoided.

What good would your house be if there were only one door? No bathroom or bedroom or closet or basement doors – just ONE door? Would that kind of convenience make the same sense to users as having only one password or always accessing only one service time and time again? People can feel and sense with very real SpaceTime their physical world, so perceived threats and safeties are different. Begin to imagine the virtual space similarly. Convenience can be illogical.

What should have happened in the beginning was for all of us to cope with multiple access points for different reasons to the Internet. Devices and some security-minded procedures already have users accessing the Internet via doorways other than the world wide web but it’s viewed as inconvenient. This mindset has to be dumped…

If we stand together, we fall together. Should we part?

California is beginning to show signs of wear. The unique laws and legislation and desire to preserve safety over convenience is threatening to make a splinternet a real thing. Do a search if you haven’t heard the term before; The concept came to light about a year and-a-half ago with WIRED (trial wall) producing the latest news item. The Internet splintering into multiple different access points for different reasons (legal or censorship or commercial) is already a reality in other countries. Here’s the thing: It’s inconvenient. I’m putting forward in this post that it’s arrival is a correction. This is the way it should have been from the start.

About censorship: Content censorship, sure – government censorship, not so much. Content censorship happens on most any site you visit and when it doesn’t? Oh boy! The vilification is instant when something goes wrong. Not censoring to some degree is as ignorant and closed as censoring to a high degree. That’s not a balancing act you should envy having to account for.

This past year has seen a move by companies to move away from the implied tyranny of other companies. Apple, Amazon, Netflix and several others have outsized Market Sway; they are not tyrants. Still, video game maker Epic Games, creators of Fortnite, eschewed Google Play, the marketplace for applications, instead selling the Android version at their own site. The splintering of sellable wares seemed like a brave move revoking Google’s access to millions of potential dollars. The industry watched, holding their breath and then saw waves of cyber attacks cost Epic Games millions of real dollars in time, repairs and cyber security.

The experience Epic Games had wasn’t a failure but served as a warning. It was a warning that perhaps Netflix acted on internally before ditching Apple’s iTunes payment acceptance for new or rejoining* subscribers in favor of collecting payment directly. (iTunes and the Play Store charge fees; specifically, iTunes’ fees are known as the Apple Tax; they are 15% to 30%) Not since Epic Games’ move a couple months ago have we seen in the news such a rich company prefer to take the security challenge of controlling its own marketplace LINK though Netflix did quietly pull out of the Android marketplace months ago.

*Most news links don’t include “rejoining” members but quoting Netflix Billing FAQ’s for iTunes, “iTunes billing for Netflix is not available to new or rejoining Netflix customers. If you are currently billed by iTunes, you can continue to use iTunes billing until your account is cancelled.”

Is a network with decentralized marketplaces safe considering they might all use different payment processors and security measures and unsafe software to build those marketplaces? The alternative is a common marketplace like Amazon. They’ve had some time in the news this year resulting from their business practices, BUT their security has been OK – not abysmal despite being conveniently accessible through the world wide web.

Who, what, where, when, why this www?

If you’re new to these concepts or researching the topic, you should be at the point where you ask about this unevenly received and wrongly utilized www world wide web. Where did it come from? Why do we use it if it lacks security (aside from the convenience of using it)? Why, if it was to decentralize control to provide safety, is there so much disparity in security when services are centralized or decentralized? Who put this flimsy, battleground, cyber space thing aside for us? You can search for historicals but Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the ‘www’ portion of the Internet agrees: Though it deserves tooth-and-nail fighting to protect, the web became something he never intended! This is the largest support of the post’s idea. You should work to do away with convenience as the Internet is today. Even the guy who made it is pretty annoyed.

The man who made the world wide web was hoping for something utilitarian but more egalitarian as well. Tim wanted all the good vibes and to level the creative playing field and shared ideas but the project missed the mark in terms of privacy and security. A few bad apples exploited the whole damn bunch. Then the exploitation became industrialized and commercial interests put their resources to work: The population of a limitless cyber landscape mostly believes it to be a walled garden of few security methods and five to twenty legitimate destinations and a place that provides mandated services, not a wide selection of DIY tools.

Tunnel Light

Enough doom! What’s to be done? First of all, there’s my suggestion that more users view the Internet and www spaces as physical spaces and add doors, locks and stop putting all their data in one place. More institutionally, however, would be Tim Berners-Lee’s announcement that he’ll be introducing us to a redo. He’s acknowledged his baby, the world wide web, to be the right idea but of poor execution so he’s making it again. Hello?

Solid is the next phase of splintering not the Internet, but our individual and collective connection to the Internet. It’s a new measure to further decentralize or disconnect users from applications, commerce and danger. It’s magic. It’s your home with a few convenient doors but when you appear to enter 456 Internet Circle, you really enter xxxyyy Cyber Drive and essentially vanish – your data is dislocated from your actions.

So what’s the inconvenience? What makes this the idea to watch is that it’s just an idea. A curious a capable traveler must go to it – and try not to see inconveniences anymore.

Happy new year, and good luck.

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