Do you trust the internet?

Friday, June 30 2017


Well, judging by the explosive growth in social media, e-commerce and online life in general, it would be fair to conclude that most of us do, or perhaps we don’t have a choice? But what if we look into this a little more closely?

According to a recent report into cybersecurity by the Pew Research institute:

‘A majority of Americans (64%) have personally experienced a major data breach, and relatively large shares of the public lack trust in key institutions – especially the federal government and social media sites to protect their personal information.’  

And the recent, headline-grabbing Mirai worm, WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks have demonstrated not only how cyberattacks cause genuine inconvenience but they also highlight potential life-and-death consequences. And with hospitals, indeed the UK National Health Service itself under attack, the alarm bells just started ringing a little louder.

But what is the driving force behind these attacks, and why have they increased in both frequency and potency?

In his keynote at this year’s event in Germany, entitled ‘The digital battle against extortionists, scammers, terrorists in a world that’s gone online’, Mikko Hyppönen, Chief Research Officer at F-secure pointed out that as with most criminal activity, the prize is monetary and in the online world, its main driver is data. Hyppönen re-asserted the suggestion that ‘Data is the new oil’. And while the value of personal data and cost of breaches can be counted in many ways, it’s clear that the market for personal data, legitimate or otherwise, is huge. He went on to explain that on the list of perpetrators (from governments to net activists), criminals sit comfortably at the top.

This is further proof that the distinction between online life and real life has all but disappeared. In Hyppönen’s rogues’ gallery of the cybercriminal elite, the classic ingredients of old-school, ‘real-life’ crime are still there – it’s just that they’ve gone digital. A lack of opportunity, ill-gotten gains and the quest for infamy have quite simply been cut ‘n pasted into an online context. Paradoxically though, cybercriminals are relatively easy to track down since they are online themselves and social media provides them with a perfect outlet for their narcissistic urges.

In their last Global Internet Report, The Internet Society looked into data breaches and trust. They even go as far as suggesting that a that a lack of trust could threaten the very existence of the Internet as we know it. According to Olaf Kolkman, Chief Internet Technology Officer (CITO) at The Internet Society, end user trust can be impacted in a number of ways:

  1. A direct threat to an individual’s livelihood
  2. Loss of control over one’s personal data
  3. General inconvenience

‘Collectively, we have to work on an enabling environment for people to retain trust. Fostering trust is about creating an environment where the risks are acceptable, and there is recourse when something bad happens’, he adds.

He also agrees that one of the major challenges with Internet security is that online life has evolved at such a rate, both technologically and socially, that most people simply haven’t been able to keep up – leaving them unaware of the risks and vulnerable to malicious attacks.

And while Hyppönen points out how consumer product registration has evolved into a world of end-user licence agreements with a pungent cocktail of data usage and collection clauses, Kolkman highlights the practical challenges to legacy production as everything gets connected.

How does a company, from a traditional manufacturing industry and without any real IT experience manage the actual lifespan of a product that needs ongoing and long-term soft/firmware support?

The answer lies ultimately in cooperation, collaboration and a different approach to product lifecycle management. We need to foresee potential problems, reduce the scope for unpleasant surprises and build collective responsibility across the ecosystem if we are to succeed. For vendors, this means securing well designed, pathable hardware, with rigorous standards and for consumers, there is clear need to promote and develop understanding.

Importantly, collaboration and understanding doesn’t stop at the user interface, it extends all the way down to the Internet backbone. We need to assume collective responsibility towards maintaining network stability end-to-end by securing effective fault mitigation and resolution practices at all levels and across different network jurisdictions (from infrastructure to service and platform partnerships).

The Internet is built on trust and where the network is often the longest link in any online interaction, conversation or transaction, we have a duty to ensure that it is the strongest. Ultimately, it isn’t about whether we can trust the Internet but rather whether we can afford not to? In these exciting but challenging times, our Carrier Declarations ‘Choose your allies carefully’ and ‘Dare to share’ are more relevant than ever…