Cybersecurity Needs to Catch Up with the Internet

The Politics of Cybersecurity

Sashrika Pandey
Jan 23, 2019 · 4 min read

The Internet — a beacon for introverts and extroverts alike, a lucrative opportunity for the keen-eyed executive, an amalgam of oddities and mainstream culture, and a platform for thousands of opinions to clash together. Part of the reason that the Internet thrives is that it acts as a hub for completely different niches. By appealing to a variety of people, the Internet is a platform for self-expression and freedom. And yet, for these very reasons, this appealing medium comes with a set of complications. While it is easy to see the Internet and associated new technologies as fairly self-policing, the lack of authority is a subject that is taboo.

We talked to J.M. Porup, a cybersecurity reporter, about this phenomenon and its effects in related fields.

“Technology is very political,” Porup concurs. “There [are] efforts among some engineers to take a neutral position. I think that’s incorrect. ”

Technology is directly related to society, especially in regards to topics like security. About twenty years ago, humans lived largely in the physical world, but today the virtual world is integrated into the lives of humans.

However, security online is much more different than security offline. With recent studies stating that businesses take approximately 197 days to uncover a breach, it is no longer a matter of if an attack will occur but, rather, when. The inherent complications of cybersecurity lie in the relationship between attacker and defender.

Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

“It is far easier to attack than it is to defend. Hacking as a general rule is cheap, easy, hard to defend and detect. It is now trivial for cyber-criminals to use SQL injection attacks. The amount of human effort and time and money to defend against some very trivial attacks — that cost is very high,” Porup elucidates. On the corporate scale, Microsoft estimates that data breaches cost companies about $3.8 million dollars.

As to whether such a trend will remain constant in the future, Porup acknowledges that “technology is in flux.” In order for technology to catch up to society, there must be some type of enforcer.

The ultimate paradox is that having an enforcer, whether the responsibility falls to a corporation or governing body, undermines the democratized nature of mediums like the Internet.

Keeping the internet democratic means allowing misinformation to spread, at least when something is considered inaccurate by a specific party.

At the same time, by involving an enforcer, the medium is no longer inherently democratic. Since the interests of the group sifting through and presenting the information play a factor, there is always a choice in what is being disclosed.

Take Facebook, the perfect example of a for-profit corporation that is integrated into the daily life of its users. With over a billion users, Facebook’s algorithm can tailor feeds for polar opposites and still expect satisfying returns. Porup explains, Facebook, with its downplayed title as a social media network, has the ability to influence its vast audience. “This for-profit corporation decides who gets to read what, whether you like it or not. That is constitutional law. That is how our speech is governed. Do I have representation on the Facebook board of directors? Do you have any voice in how our speech is governed?”

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

To the critics that refer to Facebook as a private platform and argue that it is therefore not mandatory for people to use it, Porup rebuts, “Show me Facebook’s competition.” Our world is surrounded by technology, and removing oneself from social media platforms like Facebook would be the modern equivalent of being completely isolated from the rest of society.

Evidently, an arbiter that pleases everyone, even those with polarizing opinions, is difficult to find. However, the intelligence community in each country is still expected to meet a certain set of goals, largely centered around keeping the public secure through a controlled vetting of information.

Porup illustrates the gravity of the situation with a simple metaphor: “Let’s say you want to send a SWAT team to break down every front door of every house and apartment in the United States of America. We would justly be outraged as a society… What the intelligence community is doing today is the same thing… [but] we don’t see the door burst open. We don’t have any outrage. We don’t see them do it. It’s seamless, almost invisible.”

The problem, as Porup outlines, is the nature of code. It is not limited by the constraints of such an attack in the physical world. When compared to the physical world, a cyber attack has much less backlash and accountability.

Since the operation is utterly silent, only those with the knowledge concerning it would notice it, which is one of the problems with that part of democracy. “A democracy,” Porup explains, “ensures that everyone has equal access to information…to publishing information…to securing personal information.”

Taking that requirement into consideration, Porup contends, “Mass surveillance turns America into a police state.” In a nation rooted in democratic ideals, this may sound odd, yet infringing on citizens’ rights is a contradiction of America’s ideals. Cybersecurity, a complicated issue with no answer that pleases all, is not likely to remain static for long. Just as society develops, technology develops, and it is up to us as a species to catch up to the rate at which technology is developing before it leaves us in the dust.

Sashrika Pandey

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A student-run nonprofit that strives to teach kids about interacting with machines and the intersection between art and humanities and technology. We mentor kids to think like programmers using games and activities with an emphasis on creativity, collaboration, and communication.

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