Many of you may be concerned about the unseen tracking that happens when you browse the internet. Much or most of this is fairly innocuous; for example the majority of online tracking is used by marketing and advertising companies for the purpose of serving relevant advertisements to you in allocated banner ad space on websites who are supplementing their income, etc.
Having said that, there are legitimate concerns that when you browse certain websites (or any websites), that your internet address (IP) location may be logged and correlated with the sites that you are visiting… which could potentially be flagging or profiling your behavior in NSA data mining servers located in Bluffdale, Utah for example (the brand new $2 billion spy center), or any other gov’t or 3rd-party entity.
Here’s one way to get around all that…
Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment, and is part of the ‘Bill of Rights’ to the United States Constitution. The first amendment prohibits (among other things) the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech, or infringing on the freedom of the press.
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.
Having said all that, it now appears that the United Nations badly wants to take control of the internet and is quietly but firmly moving forward with a sneak attack.
From the Wall Street Journal,
Who runs the Internet? For now, the answer remains no one, or at least no government, which explains the Web’s success as a new technology. But as of next week, unless the U.S. gets serious, the answer could be the United Nations.
Many of the U.N.’s 193 member states oppose the open, uncontrolled nature of the Internet. Its interconnected global networks ignore national boundaries, making it hard for governments to censor or tax. And so, to send the freewheeling digital world back to the state control of the analog era, China, Russia, Iran and Arab countries are trying to hijack a U.N. agency that has nothing to do with the Internet.
For more than a year, these countries have lobbied an agency called the International Telecommunications Union to take over the rules and workings of the Internet. Created in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union, the ITU last drafted a treaty on communications in 1988, before the commercial Internet, when telecommunications meant voice telephone calls via national telephone monopolies.
Next week the ITU holds a negotiating conference in Dubai, and past months have brought many leaks of proposals for a new treaty.
Having the Internet rewired by bureaucrats would be like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. The Internet is made up of 40,000 networks that interconnect among 425,000 global routes, cheaply and efficiently delivering messages and other digital content among more than two billion people around the world, with some 500,000 new users a day.
Many of the engineers and developers who built and operate these networks belong to virtual committees and task forces coordinated by an international nonprofit called the Internet Society. The society is home to the Internet Engineering Task Force (the main provider of global technical standards) and other volunteer groups such as the Internet Architecture Board and the Internet Research Task Force. Another key nongovernmental group is Icann, which assigns Internet addresses and domain names.
The self-regulating Internet means no one has to ask for permission to launch a website, and no government can tell network operators how to do their jobs. The arrangement has made the Internet a rare place of permission-less innovation.
Proposals for the new ITU treaty run to more than 200 pages. One idea is to apply the ITU’s long-distance telephone rules to the Internet by creating a “sender-party-pays” rule. International phone calls include a fee from the originating country to the local phone company at the receiving end. Under a sender-pays approach, U.S.-based websites would pay a local network for each visitor from overseas. The idea is technically impractical because unlike phone networks, the Internet doesn’t recognize national borders. But authoritarians are pushing the tax, hoping their citizens will be cut off from U.S. websites that decide foreign visitors are too expensive to serve.
Regimes such as Russia and Iran also want an ITU rule letting them monitor Internet traffic routed through or to their countries, allowing them to eavesdrop or block access.
“The Internet is highly complex and highly technical,” Sally Wentworth of the Internet Society told me recently, “yet governments are the only ones making decisions at the ITU, putting the Internet at their mercy.” She says the developers and engineers who actually run the Internet find it “mind boggling” that governments would claim control. As the Internet Society warns, “Technology moves faster than any treaty process ever can.”
Google has started an online petition for a “free and open Internet” saying: “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future.” The State Department’s top delegate to the Dubai conference, Terry Kramer, has pledged that the U.S. won’t let the ITU expand its authority to the Internet. But he hedged his warning in a recent presentation in Washington: “We don’t want to come across like we’re preaching to others.”
To the contrary, the top job for the U.S. delegation at the ITU conference is to preach the virtues of the open Internet as forcefully as possible. Billions of online users are counting on America to make sure that their Internet is never handed over to authoritarian governments or to the U.N.
What can you do about it? Call or email your congressman and voice your concern. The Internet is the last frontier of free speech. If we allow governments to take it over… it’s over.
Modern Survival while using technologies such as the Internet, involves concerns of privacy and transparency. Privacy in that you may expect that your internet service provider, email provider, social networking site, etc., will not willingly hand over your information, correspondences, history and files to the government or others, should they receive a request for it without legal warrant. Transparency in that if they do, that they will notify you and/or to an extent fight for your right to freely ride the road of the internet with ‘some’ freedom.
When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to companies like Google, AT&T and Facebook. But what happens when the government demands that these companies to hand over your private information? Will the company stand with you? Will it tell you that the government is looking for your data so that you can take steps to protect yourself?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) examined the policies of 18 major Internet companies — including email providers, ISPs, cloud storage providers, and social networking sites — to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. They looked at their terms of service, privacy policies, and published law enforcement guides, if any. They also examined their track record of fighting for user privacy in the courts and whether they’re members of the Digital Due Process coalition, which works to improve outdated communications law. Finally, they contacted each of the companies with their conclusions and gave them an opportunity to respond and provide evidence of improved policies and practices. These categories are not the only ways that a company can stand up for users, of course, but they are important and publicly verifiable.
The evaluations used the following criteria:
A public commitment to inform users when their data is sought by the government.
Transparency about when and how often companies hand data to the government.
Fight for users’ privacy rights in the courts.
Fight for users’ privacy in Congress.
EFF was especially pleased to recognize the first company to ever receive a full gold star in each of the categories measured by the privacy and transparency report: Sonic.net, an ISP based in Santa Rosa, California.
While they were extremely impressed by the strides some of these companies have made since last year, they say there’s plenty of room for improvement. They are hopeful that next year they will see more protections for users from location services providers like Loopt and Foursquare, since location information is so sensitive and increasingly sought by the government.
In addition, Amazon is entrusted with huge quantities of information as part of its cloud computing services and retail operations, yet does not produce annual transparency reports, publish a law enforcement guide, or promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government.
EFF was pleased that Comcast and Yahoo stood up for user privacy in courts, but neither company has hit any of the other criteria for earning recognition in other categories.
AT&T, Microsoft, and Apple are members of the Digital Due Process coalition, but don’t observe any of the other best practices they (EFF) are measuring.
And this year, as last, Verizon and MySpace earned no stars in the report.
The overall poor showing of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who provide Internet connectivity to so many people, is especially troubling.
Rank (higher number is ‘better’)
|sonic.net||4||Internet Service Provider|
|Dropbox||3||Cloud storage provider|
|3||Search Engine, email provider|
|SpiderOak||2.5||Cloud storage provider|
|amazon||2||e-commerce, Cloud services|
|Apple||1||e-products, Internet Service Provider|
|at&t||1||Internet Service Provider|
|comcast||1||Internet Service Provider|
|loopt||1||Location based services, Social networking|
|Microsoft||1||…it’s Microsoft, a bit of everything here|
|Yahoo||1||Search Engine, email provider|
|foursquare||0||Location based services, Social networking|
|verizon||0||Internet Service Provider|
Not to burst your bubble, but, the NSA is building an enormous spy center in Utah, which may negate all this anyway… There is little doubt that they (NSA) are already sifting through emails and other online activities to some extent. It still helps to know where some of the major internet companies stand on the general issue of government intrusion on the internet.
Systemic risk is risk that affects an entire system. A systemic risk is one that could potentially bring it all down. It would be a component or a dependency of a system that itself requires the ‘thing’ to be there, to be functioning as expected, to always be up and running or working.
The Internet is itself a system, but it is also a dependency or systemic risk of bigger systems. We depend on the Internet. ‘We’, meaning, most of us. We as individuals depend on it, business depends on it, it is an integral part of our modern way of life.
Stock markets, world finance, and all banking depends upon the instantaneous ‘money’ transfer pipeline to settle transactions. If this ‘light speed’ ability were to be removed, it would all come crashing down.
Communications depend on it. While you as an individual could survive without the ability to text your friends every few minutes, the dependency upon instant communications for business is critical. Most all modern communications methods touch the internet in some way.
Supply chains of distribution depend on the various connections of feedback for supply and demand. Today’s ‘just-in-time’ inventory works because of the internet, which enables fast and real-time communications and data interchange to keep the manufacturers aligned with the demand of the distributors and retailers. Without the instant feedback loop, the ‘just-in-time’ system would crash.
The unfathomable depth and volume of the internet as a resource is staggering compared to only a few decades ago when the library was the resource. The ability to have access to this resource has revolutionized the way we think, the way we do business, and the way we live. We are dependent on it. This makes it a systemic risk to our modern way of life.
Although it appears as though the internet is resilient, and will always be there for us, we cannot make that assumption if we are to consider being prepared. It is a well worth exercise to spend a few minutes and imagine the world without the internet, and how it would affect your life. Then, prepare for it just a little, or more, if you would like.
Those who wish to do us harm, know this is one of our vulnerabilities and systemic risks. Never assume that things will always remain the same. Recognize the risks. Even if you do nothing about it, if you have thought about it, you will be a step ahead of most of the rest.
Without becoming technical, just know that the internet has a backbone and nodes where the bulk of traffic passes through. Our clever enemies know this too. This backbone is surely well secured and in many ways, redundant. But… you know what they say about when you ‘assume’…
Update, Yet another problem facing internet users, the infamous ‘kill switch’…
From zdnet.com, “China’s mysterious Internet outage; speculation over a ‘kill switch’” At approximately 11am local time yesterday, Internet users around China reported significant Internet blackouts. Not only were they unable to access some Chinese sites, but also many foreign Web sites that had not previously been blocked. Others have suggested that the temporary outage might have been a test run of an emergency ‘kill switch’, in case extreme measures need to be taken in the ongoing crackdown of the Chinese Internet.
Protect IP Act (PIPA)
US House of Representatives
Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
From the bill: “To prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.”
The Washington Post says,
If passed, PIPA would give the government and rights holders dramatic new powers to target websites accused of the unlicensed distribution of copyrighted content. Once identified, accused sites would have their domains disabled in DNS servers (the servers that match the domain name with the numerical IP address and make sure you go to the websites you want to), and search engines, advertising companies and any affiliated websites could be required to remove links to the offending site – effectively blacklisting the URL and placing undo burden on those associated with it to prove their innocence.
In many cases, website proprietors won’t even know PIPA has targeted them until their site has already been blacklisted under a temporary restraining order. They wouldn’t even get their day in court until their business has already been shut down.
This would be a problem under any legal regime that cared about the rights of the accused, but it’s quite more egregious given law enforcement’s sloppy use of its existent powers in the Internet realm — accidentally shutting down 84,000 websites earlier this year…
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said,
The bills would overdo it — giving copyright holders and government the power to cut off Web sites unreasonably. They could be shut down, and search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo could be stopped from linking to them.
“The solutions are draconian,” “There’s a bill that would require ISPs [Internet service providers] to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked.”
the weekly Standard says,
The bills essentially call for censorship of online speech in such a way, and with so little recourse for those accused of “infringing” on intellectual property rights.
Even in China they are calling it the “Great Firewall of America.” At least the Chinese are enjoying the irony of the U.S. government moving toward a legal regime that would give it carte blanche to seize and take down websites on the basis of “infringement.”
Modern Survival Blog says,
Congress and the executive branch sure seem to be in a hurry to rip up more of our liberties.
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Given the fact that the recent Stuxnet cyber attack, as compared with a current hacker-type cyber attack, is like comparing conventional weapons to nuclear weapons, are you at all concerned about this next phase of internet cyber attack and security?
Stuxnet was uniquely designed to target and attack specific hardware, apparently the type which exists in particular Siemens hardware that is being used by the Iranians in their nuclear development labs.
What if… the next Stuxnet type worm weapon is designed to target and cyber attack high Tier routers on the internet?
The internet is layered in Tiers, with Tier 1 consisting of very high end router links capable of moving massive amounts of traffic. Although the internet is structured in such a way to provide redundancy routes, who’s to say that a new generation cyber worm couldn’t take out enough key routers to crash parts (or most?) of the system networks.
Most of us living in the modern world rely on the internet backbone to survive, whether we realize it or not. Just about everything we do or buy depends on internet connectivity to somewhere.
When you pull into the gas station to fill the tank, 99 percent of us use our debit card (or some card) to make the transaction. In fact, think about it, how many of us use cash for anything anymore?
Sure, we walk around with a little pocket cash for incidentals, but, right now, open your wallet or purse, and count how much cash you have on hand at this moment. For most, I’ll bet its less than a hundred dollars (euros, pounds, etc…).
Today, its mostly all digital dollars, and digi-dollars don’t work without the internet.
Without the internet, your pocket money will have to get you through until the internet is back up again.
I wonder how many gas stations, grocery stores, or any type of store will have the ability to accept your cash if the internet network is down. How many of the “cash” registers today are networked and require internet connectivity back to headquarters before they will even operate and accept your transaction, even though it is a cash transaction?
When you start to really think about the possibilities of what might be affected by a downed internet, it gets rather alarming to say the least.
So, now that this gloom and doom scenario is pointed out, lets talk about a few of the good and preventive measures that can be taken before a major cyber attack.
Print hard copies of anything pertinent related to your finances. Print your latest bank statements, and write down your bank information including addresses and phone numbers.
Download and save statements, PDFs, anything that would serve as some form of proof.
Backup your important documents, files, and data to a portable hard drive, one which you only connect to your computer when you are doing the backup.
Think about the information that you rely on being at your fingertips simply by going out over the internet and getting it. If its important, download it, print it, or write it down.
You might want to consider investing in a decent home Safe, and keeping a comfortable amount of cash on hand, just in case. Maybe also a number of silver ounces?
Would be curious to hear from you Information Technology folks out there… Is it within the realm of possibilities that a hardware-targeted Stuxnet type worm could damage enough high level routers to bring the system down, or some degree of “down”?
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