Photo Credit: Jan Wittkopp via Compfight cc
I frequently have trouble explaining Internet security to people and think I have come to understand why. Most people think of the Internet as a physical place and have this innate belief that – like most public places – it’s a safe place. Why wouldn’t it be? When we buy or use anything that’s publicly available we have an expectation of safety and security simply because it’s available to the public.
It’s like when we get on the Tube to come into work. We don’t question why there isn’t a sprinkler system on the train. If we think about it at all, we just figure that someone will take care of us in the event of a fire. Or else why would they let us get on the train? We have this same assumption when we log on to the Internet. Why is that? Who promised us anything? Did anyone promise you a secure Internet, private transactions or communications? Is there a login guarantee I missed? We believe in the promise of what the Internet should be – not what it is. And therein lies our problem. For me it works like this:
Think of the World Wide Web as a World Wide Town. Your computer is like your dog, trained to run out and fetch things in town for you to look at or buy. The server hosting your website is like your apartment filled with a collection of your belongings. Your IP address is your street address and your hosting provider is your Landlord. In this town your mail server is an old fashioned Post Office and the DNS is the town gossip who knows everything about everyone and specifically is able to give directions to your home to strangers in town.
In this town we can find anything we want. Every day we give our dog different commands: Go get me a train ticket to Birmingham. Go get me a cheap flight to Vegas. Good boy! Go get me Bruce Springsteen’s latest album. Go fetch me some Viagra from Mexico. Atta boy! Go tell my friends what I’m doing tonight. Go post this picture of me throwing up at the stag night in Ibiza. You’re soooo good
It’s such a magical place. We can see things we’ve never seen before. Go places we’ve only dreamed of. We can talk to someone on the other side of the world. Learn another language. Watch a video of a hamster water skiing. Find a date for Friday night. Find a date for the rest of our lives. Hear music, see films and read books that haven’t been released yet. Get a University degree. Get a job. Get another job. Watch another hamster video. Buy pharmaceuticals from an exotic country. Find out what kind of shampoo Monica Bellucia uses. The fact is there are no limits to what you can do in this town.
But like every town – it has a bad side. Places you shouldn’t go in the daytime much less after dark. In this town, children can get into adult movies. Adults seduce children. Adults can buy children. People can buy people – male female, child or adult. You can buy anything you want: Drugs that are illegal, step-by-step instructions for how to build a bomb, databases of bank and credit card details, a new identity, someone else’s identity. In this town you can be whoever you want to be. You can lie. You can cheat. You can steal – all without repercussion.
You see, this town has no police force. It has no law enforcement of any kind because there are no laws in this town. There are no laws in this town because there is no Government that looks over and protects the wellbeing of the people who inhabit this town. You’re on your own in this town.
In this town there is no moral law. There is no “right” or “wrong”. In this town anyone can steal and retrain your dog. Anyone can enter, rob or squat in your apartment. Let’s face it your Landlord doesn’t even lock your apartment complex. In this town everyone reads your mail before you even get it and the town gossip lies and misdirects people. In this town anyone can use your name anywhere in town and there nothing you can do about it.
No rules. No laws. No consequences – that’s the Internet. That’s the Websville I know.
I’m telling you, this town is tough. In this town, even the “good guys” are bad. The businesses we visit or buy from in this town feed our dogs “cookies” that track their movements. They track where he is, where he went and where he goes and make predictions about where he will go. In any other town that’s called “stalking” – but not in this town. In this town businesses enter our apartment without our knowledge, copy the furnishings and take our personal details and sell them for profit. In any other town that’s called “robbery” – but not here. On the streets of Websville, these crimes are perfectly acceptable. And these are the good guys. In a town where the good guys act like this – the bad guys are really bad.
Yet, every day we log on with some vague feeling of safety and security. We try to avoid the bad parts of town and think that’s enough to keep us safe. We find it hard to believe that someone else may be giving commands to our dog or ransacking our apartment. We don’t believe the hype and paranoia of this dangerous place. We don’t understand that there’s no one looking after us if we are not looking after ourselves. We just want to see that hamster video.