Friday, 28 February 2020

Technology’s Virtual Hazards

Updated: October 23, 2015 4:45 am

The internet—the network of networks which links most of the computers on the planet—has become not just the central nervous system of modern life, but also its greatest vulnerability. The importance of the internet lies not just in the numbers who use it. It is the most important messaging system in the world. In 2015, the number of e-mails sent every day passed 200 billion. That means the two days’ worth of e-mails outnumber the world’s total postal traffic for a whole week. Against this backdrop, online security assumes gargantuan significance. Edward Lucas reveals the ways in which cyberspace is not the secure zone we may hope, how passwords provide no significant obstacle to anyone intent on getting past them, and how anonymity is easily accessible to anyone willing to take a little time covering their tracks.

The internet was designed by a small group of computer scientists looking for a way to share information quickly. In the last twenty years it has expanded rapidly to become a global information superhighway, available to all comers, but also wide open to those seeking invisibility. This potential for anonymity means neither privacy nor secrecy is really possible for law-abiding corporations or citizens. As identities can be faked so easily, the very foundations on which our political, legal and economic systems are based are vulnerable. Businesses, governments, national security organisations and even ordinary individuals are constantly at risk and with our ever increasing dependence on the internet and smart-phone technology this threat is unlikely to diminish—in fact, the target for cyber-criminals is expanding all the time.

In this perspective, not only does Cyberphobia lay bare the dangers of the internet, it also explores the most successful defensive cyber-strategies, options for tracking down transgressors and argues that we are moving into a post-digital age where once again face-to-face communication will be the only interaction that really matters. “On the Internet,” writes the author, “distance is irrelevant: your attacker can be on the other side of the world.” Lucas examines the geopolitics of such malfeasance, noting how Russia and China have encouraged industrial hacking, while Israel and the U.S. may have unleashed the Stuxnet worm on Iran’s nuclear programme. Lucas can be witty, and he orients his discussion more toward the lay reader than some similar titles. While his scary techno-narrative at times becomes overwhelming or generalized, he tries to articulate common-sense precautions for such readers. “On the Internet,” writes the author, “distance is irrelevant: your attacker can be on the other side of the world.” Lucas examines the geopolitics of such malfeasance, noting how Russia and China have encouraged industrial hacking, while Israel and the U.S. may have unleashed the Stuxnet worm on Iran’s nuclear program. Lucas can be witty, and he orients his discussion more toward the lay reader than some similar titles. While his scary techno-narrative at times becomes overwhelming or generalized, he tries to articulate common-sense precautions for such readers. The book is a primer on the subject for people who haven’t a clue about how the internet works and yet depend on it every day.

By Ashok Kumar

31-10-2015

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