Essays in the Category “Internet and Society”
This essay is part of a conversation with Gloria Origgi entitled "What is Reputation?" Other participants were Abbas Raza, William Poundstone, Hugo Mercier, Quentin Hardy, Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, Bruce Schneier, and Kai Krause.
Reputation is a social mechanism by which we come to trust one another, in all aspects of our society. I see it as a security mechanism. The promise and threat of a change in reputation entices us all to be trustworthy, which in turn enables others to trust us. In a very real sense, reputation enables friendships, commerce, and everything else we do in society.
Last week, CIA director John O. Brennan became the latest victim of what's become a popular way to embarrass and harass people on the internet. A hacker allegedly broke into his AOL account and published emails and documents found inside, many of them personal and sensitive.
It's called doxing—sometimes doxxing—from the word "documents." It emerged in the 1990s as a hacker revenge tactic, and has since been as a tool to harass and intimidate people, primarily women, on the internet. Someone would threaten a woman with physical harm, or try to incite others to harm her, and publish her personal information as a way of saying "I know a lot about you—like where you live and work." Victims of doxing talk about the fear that this tactic instills.
The doxing of Ashley Madison reveals an uncomfortable truth: In the age of cloud computing, everyone is vulnerable.
Most of us get to be thoroughly relieved that our emails weren't in the Ashley Madison database. But don't get too comfortable. Whatever secrets you have, even the ones you don't think of as secret, are more likely than you think to get dumped on the Internet. It's not your fault, and there's largely nothing you can do about it.
Those of you unfamiliar with hacker culture might need an explanation of “doxing.”
The word refers to the practice of publishing personal information about people without their consent. Usually it’s things like an address and phone number, but it can also be credit card details, medical information, private e-mails—pretty much anything an assailant can get his hands on.
Doxing is not new; the term dates back to 2001 and the hacker group Anonymous. But it can be incredibly offensive. In 2014, several women were doxed by male gamers trying to intimidate them into keeping silent about sexism in computer games.
German translation by Yuri Samoilov
There's a new international survey on Internet security and trust, of '23,376 Internet users in 24 countries,' including 'Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.' Amongst the findings, 60% of Internet users have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those 'have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations.'
The press is mostly spinning this as evidence that Snowden has not had an effect: 'merely 39%,' 'only 39%,' and so on. (Note that these articles are completely misunderstanding the data. It's not 39% of people who are taking steps to protect their privacy post-Snowden, it's 39% of the 60% of Internet users—which is not everybody—who have heard of him. So it's much less than 39%.)
Even so, I disagree with the 'Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users' headline.
Distributed citizen groups and nimble hackers once had the edge. Now governments and corporations are catching up. Who will dominate in the decades ahead?
We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations.
Recently, Elon Musk and The New York Times took to Twitter and the internet to argue the data -- and their grievances -- over a failed road test and car review. Meanwhile, an Applebee's server is part of a Change.org petition to get her job back after posting a pastor's no-tip receipt comment online. And when he wasn't paid quickly enough, a local Fitness SF web developer rewrote the company's webpage to air his complaint.
All of these 'cases' are seeking their judgments in the court of public opinion.
This essay appeared as a response to Edge's annual question, "What *Should* We Be Worried About?"
All disruptive technologies upset traditional power balances, and the Internet is no exception. The standard story is that it empowers the powerless, but that's only half the story. The Internet empowers everyone. Powerful institutions might be slow to make use of that new power, but since they are powerful, they can use it more effectively.
Society runs on trust. Over the millennia, we've developed a variety of mechanisms to induce trustworthy behavior in society. These range from a sense of guilt when we cheat, to societal disapproval when we lie, to laws that arrest fraudsters, to door locks and burglar alarms that keep thieves out of our homes. They're complicated and interrelated, but they tend to keep society humming along.
Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone.
Those of us living through the Internet-caused revolution in journalism can't see what's going to come out the other side: how readers will interact with journalism, what the sources of journalism will be, how journalists will make money. All we do know is that mass-market journalism is hurting, badly, and may not survive. And that we have no idea how to thrive in this new world of digital media.
I have five pieces of advice to those trying to survive and wanting to thrive: based both on experiences as a successful Internet pundit and blogger, and my observations of others, successful and unsuccessful.
This essay appeared as the first half of a point-counterpoint with Marcus Ranum.
Are employees blogging corporate secrets? It's not an unreasonable fear, actually. People have always talked about work to their friends. It's human nature for people to talk about what's going on in their lives, and work is a lot of most people's lives.
Book Review of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
By Clay Shirky
Penguin Press: 2008. 336 pp. $25.95, ISBN: 978-159420153-0
In 1937, Ronald Coase answered one of the most perplexing questions in economics: if markets are so great, why do organizations exist? Why don't people just buy and sell their own services in a market instead?
Wine Therapy is a web bulletin board for serious wine geeks. It's been active since 2000, and its database of back posts and comments is a wealth of information: tasting notes, restaurant recommendations, stories and so on. Late last year someone hacked the board software, got administrative privileges and deleted the database. There was no backup.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.