Big Brother and the Barbarians at the Gate

The Internet's tentacles touch almost every aspect of modern life. Individuals, businesses, and governments rely on networked information systems for a wide range of purposes and activities. Individuals increasingly depend on the Internet for access to shopping, banking and investment resources, bill payment, news and entertainment, social activities, travel planning, education, interactions with government, and communication with friends and family, not to mention work. Governments and businesses increasingly depend on the Internet for coordination functions that are fundamental to their missions.

This increasing Internet dependence creates new vulnerabilities for individuals and society at large. For example, it creates unprecedented opportunities for governments and businesses to gather information about individuals. This information helps organizations to deliver better service to their customers, constituents, and other stakeholders. But it can also be used for purposes that are annoying (e.g., unwanted marketing), dangerous (e.g., profiling for health insurance), or destructive (e.g., blackmail and character defamation).

Moreover, the expanding role of networked information systems in society makes it even more important to design these systems to be be reliable, secure, and survivable. If we take our technology for granted, it could become our greatest weakness.

The Internet nurtures and is nurtured by an anti-authoritarian culture of free information. From the beginning, this culture has hosted a ``hacker'' subculture of individuals (mostly disaffected youth) who delight in circumventing and undermining security mechanisms in computer systems. Many of the most talented hackers are good people who avoid damaging their victims, and who believe with some justification that they are doing society a favor by exposing security vulnerabilities where they exist. Others are malicious or unable to control the damage caused by their hacks. But if the Internet and computer systems connected to it are vulnerable to kids acting from a joyriding instinct, then they are also vulnerable to more dangerous threats from criminals, terrorists, and spies.

Readings

Big Brother and Privacy

Infrastructure Security