The Internet is Flawed (Discuss)... Part 4

Mike Halsey MVP
May 31, 2011
Updated • Dec 11, 2012

In the final part of this article series I want to look at what the future might hold for the Internet and all of us who use it. So far I've discussed how secretive governments view the Internet in Part 1, Asked if the west wants to constrain it in Part 2 and then into how it is used by criminals, terrorists and even in war in Part 3.

Overall it's quite a scary picture as it's become clear that if you are an ordinary person, celebrity or public figure it's extremely difficult, if not impossible to maintain your anonymity online. However criminals, terrorists, pedophiles and even those responsible for state-sponsored cyber-warfare use the weaknesses of the Internet to maintain secrecy, both in their identities and, as in the case of the darknets, even the content of their discussions.

Different countries are also showing different approaches to the Internet, some of these are contradictory. It's reported that some people within the pentagon want much tighter controls on our net freedoms. Other countries such as France have already imposed new and unpopular laws governing how we use the web, and a discussion in the British government is currently trying to figure out how to accommodate the Internet into existing laws.

You would then have to find a way to make an Internet ID work. How would it accommodate Internet cafes or using a computer at work? Would it be tied to an IP address? If the latter was the case then it would be far too easy to create false-positive results when searching for an individual.

Another idea is to change email so that all emails are verifiable from the source. This has been talked about for years and is much more workable. The new system, if it were ever to be implemented, would digitally tag an email with the ID of the computer, user and IP address that sent it. Originally designed as a method to combat spam, this would certainly help trace people, some of the time anyway, but still has its flaws.

The biggest problem stems from what the Internet is. In its current form it's just impossible to regulate in the way some people might like it done. This means we would need a second generation Internet but this again has its problems. Any new style of Internet would either have to be backwardly compatible with the existing net, and thus susceptible to many of its flaws, or would consequently take years to get off the ground. The people of the world would essentially be rebuilding the Internet from scratch. It could even mean wholesale hardware and server upgrades too.

There are advantages to this idea though that stem from the fact that the current Internet was never designed to do the things we are now asking of it. Mankind still wants to push the boundaries and a new set of Internet protocols could be the best answer moving forward.

If there were to be any constraints on the Internet and how we use it though the biggest problem would be selling this to the public. On occasion we've given up some civil liberties on the grounds of fighting terrorism or crime, but the backlash from people unwilling to give up the complete freedoms they have online could end up being too much for world leaders to bear. It could simply make the whole project unworkable.

The fact remains though that we have a problem that isn't going away. While security and network researchers and experts occasionally suggest new mechanisms to help, it will take a critical mass to actually get anything off the ground. This might not happen until we outgrow the current Internet architecture and public damand makes a switch essential, such as the current changeover to IPv6.

That again, could be many years away, but experts and researchers need to be planning now for what would replace the Internet that we currently have, how it would work, how it would protect people and critically, how we can still maintain our freedoms.


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  1. john said on June 8, 2011 at 8:11 am

    I wanted to give my opinion, I agree that are certain troubling measures taken by “western” governments that could curtail the freedom of internet, most recently in the US the anti-copyright laws that gives Homeland Security Agency ICE(an immigration agency of all things) the power to seize torrent and warez domains without due-process is particularly troubling not in the effort to curtail an illegal activity but the precedent it sets to allow the government to build on to remove information without the process of going to trail first, basically a search without a warrant.
    However I believe that ultimately these intrusions by the government receive sufficient press and more importantly outrage by the people so attempts are more often than not thwarted. I think the much larger problem is relatively simple. It’s the access to information in any and all forms on the internet which is being debased by usurpation of the web by meager sites and the failure of search engines to evolve.
    I remember in the late 90s and early 2000s when a search on the internet for any topic would link you to hundreds of unique websites all offering a unique benefit. Today what happens when you search?
    JUNK, ehow, associated content, wisegeek, content farms, et cetra; worthless sites that give you no useful information whatsoever. The internet is being aggregated to a select few sites that once they reach a certain point begin to remove content, discourage creativity and eliminate diversity because they become the only viable sources to use. If I had the resources and I wouldn’t doubt the Blog owner here can access them that i the last decade you can see this trend emerge factually; that although the proliferation of websites continues the majority of the web is being congregated into an increasingly smaller range.
    I just think that this is the actual problem and it doesn’t really matter if the gov’t tires or fails to censor the internet because it’s already been trivialized.

  2. Mike said on May 31, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    In my country, a third world one, you can find name, age, address, phone number, etc in many goverment websites :(
    The Internet is fine as it is, the problem is that goberments and bussiness have too much information they don’t really need and don’t protect it. And people putting personal info on Inet! 15 years ago everyone had fantasy names, what’s the problem with that?!
    For the security part, 99.9999% of the times, you are just fine not installing every crap you find on internet and keeping your software up to date!
    Any change made is just so the people in power have more control.

  3. Ashley Pearson said on May 31, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I have enjoyed reading these parts. Is there going to be a part 5?

  4. luftiq said on May 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I do not think the Internet is flawed in the way that you describe. You say that if you are an ordinary person, celebrity or public figure, it’s difficult to be anonymous. I disagree. An ordinary person can be anonymous quite easily if he is determined enough to do so. A public figure doesn’t want to be anonymous in the first place.

    The fact that the Internet is used for both good and bad purposes isn’t something strange and is common in most forms of technology. Criminals existed before the Internet appeared and used any means available to do their business. Was it more difficult for them before the Internet existed? I do not think so. Does the Internet make it easier for them? Sometimes yes. However, we have to consider what we gain by having such a powerful medium of communications. We gain a lot. What we have to do is protect it by defending the freedom of speech and the right to access information. Human society has always had criminals and will probably have in the future too. Losing our rights because of this fact is just the wrong way to attack the problem.

    You cannot have freedom of speech without the option to remain anonymous. Why? Because then it would be very easy for any form of authority to track and eliminate opposers. Most censorship is retrospective, it is generally much easier to curtail free speech by punishing those who exercise it afterward, rather than preventing them from doing it in the first place. The only way to prevent this is to remain anonymous.

    It is also a common misconception that you cannot trust anonymous information. This is not necessarily true, using digital signatures people can create a secure anonymous pseudonym which, in time, people can learn to trust.

  5. Muhammad Adnan said on May 31, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Well in my opinion, the identity based on ip addresses is unlikely to work. The reason for this is that currently the Internet is based on ipv4 that heavily relies on NAT/PAT, which makes it almost impossible to track the users. And as you rightly mentioned ipv6 is no way near to replace the full architecture yet. Tagging identities with email sounds a good idea, but then again as u pointed out hoe the world powers will agree on that. I personally don’t see it happening in near future.

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