Is the Net Doomed?

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Beyond the Feds

What about the states? After all, California's law requiring credit companies to report any breaches of security, as well as the risks the break-ins pose to individuals, helped bring to light the massive CardSystems scandal in which 40 million debit and credit card accounts were exposed to intruders. Arizona assistant attorney general Gail Thackeray, who has spent much of her law-enforcement career pursuing electronic marauders, says the feds are great for education, clout, and funding. But Thackeray says Congress will water down any legislation with teeth: The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act, in her judgment, "doesn't do squat" to fight spam.

Thackeray says that she'd like to see more cooperation (and face-to-face meetings) between everyone affected by or involved in combating cybercrime--bankers, phone companies, private security, vendors, feds, states, locals, and gurus. The goal: to rebuild ties of trust and polite understanding that are being eaten away in our connected society.

A county attorney who attempts to call a major Internet service provider, Thackeray explains, quite frequently finds no one to talk to. Support has been moved offshore, or the call ends in voice-mail jails where robots fend off the unwary. And e-mail messages go unanswered.

In fact, Thackeray says, large corporations are more interested in using their legislative clout to isolate and protect themselves than in sharing their intelligence on cybercrime with law enforcement agencies, which could result in negative publicity. She notes that the annual Computer Crime and Security Survey, conducted jointly by the Computer Security Institute (an industry organization) and the FBI, consistently shows that corporations report only a fraction of computer crimes to authorities.

Today, isolation--the off-site backup, placing one's digital valuables into areas that are simply not on the Internet at all--is probably the only genuinely effective security measure. And that's not good.

The Net We Deserve

The Internet doesn't have to bring peace or prosperity to anybody. It remains what it has been from the beginning: a fun-house reflection of the entire planet.

We're going to get the Net we deserve. How would we deserve better? We would have to relearn the art of citizenship. We would have to convene all the major players in business and government, get them to stop their finger-pointing, buck-passing, border-jumping, and check-dodging, lock them into the same room--most likely, the same physical room--and not set them free until they had hammered out new solutions.

If we could do it, we'd be like rapidly developing countries--places that once seemed hopeless (think China and India) but suddenly find themselves with a newly energized populace that realizes anything is possible. Then we'd look again in the fun-house mirror of the Net and see developments so powerful that we wouldn't even have words for them.

Hey, it could happen.

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