Net Night Is Falling!
The End of Web As We Know It?
Mass extinction of unviable, unneeded and insecure Web sites looms...
by Bruce Brown
THE RECENT HACKS of the International Monetary Fund, Citicorp, Sony, Lockheed Martin, RSA Security, and the Canadian Government -- to name only a few of the known hacker attacks in the last five months -- are not just speed bumps on the gleaming highway to an ever bigger, better and faster Internet.
In fact, they are sounding the death knell of the Internet as we know it.
Here's the deal. Despite the recent arrest of three apparent leaders of the Spanish arm of Anonymous by the Spanish National Police, high level hackers now have stupendous tools, immense computing power and previously undreamed of layers of anonymity -- thanks to cloud computing operations like Amazon AWS, which mercifully is not going to survive either.
In addition, we have turned the Internet into something it was never, never, NEVER intended to be -- a highly centralized, highly complex tool of corporate domination. These two factors -- the exponential increase in hacker power, and the equally startling increase in complexity on the corporatized Net at every turn -- have fundamentally tipped the security scales.
Increasingly, the nervous "best practices" mantras of the security industry are just that, prayers. I have been in this business since 1995, and I have NEVER seen anything like the tidal wave of hacking attacks since last summer. And if hackers can hack Sony, Citicorp, IMF or the Canadian government, how hard do you think it is for them to hack into your little web site or blog? Not very, and therefore it's not very surprisingly that there are a huge number hacked small to medium sized Web sites out there right now like DanRoberts.com, to mention only that was recently profiled on ProbeOff.com.
Meanwhile, the reaction of the Web security industry is to build higher walls, rather than spend the time and the money to really deal with the problem. For instance, Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is being talked up more and more these days as a systemic Web security solution, but SSL involves another big jump in complexity (which is itself a big part of the problem) and SSL is not really completely secure, as readers of the ProbeOff.com Forums know full-well.
What the current security crisis on the Web really demands is a much higher level of HUMAN involvement. For one thing, Webmasters, blogmasters and system admins need to read BOTH their HTTP and Apache logs closely every day and make appropriate changes to their .htaccess and hosts_deny files every day, based on current hacker activity. Not only is this not happening, but many small to medium sized Web sites don't even have access to their server's Apache log files, which means they'll never even see the footprints of the slicker hackers in their logs, even if they DO actually look.
Nor do Webmasters, blogmaters, sysops and admins have the time! When you factor in this sort of human labor cost, the Web frankly doesn't make economic sense for most of the sites on the Web today. It's really just a matter of dollars and cents, which is why we are heading for a mass extinction of Web sites -- a great dying off of unviable, unneeded and insecure Web sites -- much like the "great dying" that marked the end of the Permian Epoch the birth of the Triassic Epoch 250 million years ago.
Net night is coming! Here's how I see it breaking out:
* Blogs and forums -- it's going to be a rough 100 or 200 million digital years for blogs and forums. Because they are dynamic in nature and frequently under staffed (which is to say, without a staff), blogs and forums are highly vulnerable to hacking, and the effects of a hack are much worse. If someone hacks a flat Web, they can alter the content and make off with information that may be secreted there, but that's about it. If someone hacks a php driven Web, they can gain root access to the entire server and everything on it, not just the Web they hacked.
* Corporate Sites -- the big corporate sites are highly complex and highly programmed, and therefore highly vulnerable, but they have money -- and pride -- and they will fight on, perhaps for decades. They are doomed in the end, though, because they're locked in a sort of Digital Palestine: a conflict that they cannot win because their strengths -- complexity and centralization -- strengthen their enemy. You can get an idea of how deep a hole some of the big corporate sites are in when you realize that according to Poneman Institute, the two known hacks of Sony this spring cost the company an estimated $24 billion, or almost ten times Sony's estimated profit of $287 million for the same period. Ouch!
Coming out on the other side, the Web is going to be smaller, simpler, less centralized and more secure -- like when the Web was born -- because that's what works.
I'm Polyanna enough to believe it will be a better world too. We've reached the point where 85 percent of the Web is pernicious garbage. There's really nothing there to miss.
And with the Social Mediasauruses out of the way, people might actually do somehting more productive with their lives, like write a sonnet or take the dog for a walk.
-- Bruce Brown
updated December 2013
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