The Internet has transformed the front lines of war, and it’s leaving governments behind. Today modern conflict is being waged online between non-state groups, activists and private corporations, and the digital landscape is proving to be fertile ground for the recruitment and radicalization of terrorists. Meanwhile, draconian surveillance programs are ripe for exploitation. Security analyst urges governments to end mass surveillance programs and shut “backdoors” — and they make a bold call for individuals to step up.
With the Internet and other technologies, Our everyday lives have changes , but they’ve also changed recruitment, radicalization and the front lines of conflict today.
Without forgetting the links connecting Twitter, Google and protesters fighting for democracy? These numbers represent Google’s public DNS servers, effectively the only digital border crossing protesters had and could use to communicate with each other, to reach the outside world and to spread viral awareness of what was happening in their own country.
Today, conflict is essentially borderless. If there are bounds to conflict today, they’re bound by digital, not physical geography. And under all this is a vacuum of power where non-state actors, individuals and private organizations have the advantage over slow, outdated military and intelligence agencies. And this is because, in the digital age of conflict, there exists a feedback loop where new technologies, platforms like the ones mentioned, and more disruptive ones, can be adapted, learned, and deployed by individuals and organizations faster than governments can react.
Today conflict can be immaterial, borderless, often wholly untraceable. And conflict isn’t just online to offline, as we see with terrorist radicalization, but it goes the other way as well.
We all know the horrible events that unfolded in Paris this year with the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. What an individual hacker or a small group of anonymous individuals did was enter those social media conversations that so many of us took part in. #JeSuisCharlie. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Google, all sorts of places where millions of people, were talking about the events and saw images like this
the emotional, poignant image of a baby with “Je suis Charlie” on its wrist. And this turned into a weapon. What the hackers did was weaponize this image, where unsuspecting victims, like all of us in those conversations, saw this image, downloaded it but it was embedded with malware. And so when you downloaded this image, it hacked your system. It took six days to deploy a global malware campaign. The divide between physical and digital domains today ceases to exist, where we have offline attacks like those in Paris appropriated for online hacks.
With all of this, we see that there’s a new 21st century battle brewing, and governments don’t necessarily take a part.
Today, peer-to-peer security is believed to be the answer. Those people in relationships that bought over teens online, we can do that with peer-to-peer security. Individuals have more power than ever before to affect national and international security. And we can create those positive peer-to-peer relationships on and offline, we can support and educate the next generation of hackers, instead of saying, “You can either be a criminal or join the NSA.” That matters today. And it’s not just individuals — it’s organizations, corporations even. They have an advantage to act across more borders, more effectively and more rapidly than governments can, and there’s a set of real incentives there. It’s profitable and valuable to be seen as trustworthy in the digital age, and will only be more so in future generations to come.
And so to say that it’s not what governments can do, it’s that they can’t. Governments today need to give up power and control in order to help make us more secure. Giving up mass surveillance and hacking and instead fixing those backdoors means that, they can’t spy on us, but neither can the Chinese or that hacker in Estonia a generation from now. And government support for technologies like Tor and Bitcoin mean giving up control, but it means that developers, translators, anybody with an Internet connection, in countries like Cuba, Iran and China, can sell their skills, their products, in the global marketplace, but more importantly sell their ideas, show us what’s happening in their own countries.
And so it should be not fearful, it should be inspiring to the same governments that fought for civil rights, free speech and democracy in the great wars of the last century, that today, for the first time in human history, we have a technical opportunity to make billions of people safer around the world that we’ve never had before in human history!