Davos07: Who controls the internet

I’m sitting in the front row for a panel on internet governance with future guy Paul Saffo, internet godfather Vint Cerf, Oxford Jonathan Zittrain, John Markoff, ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure, and Michael Dell. Yes, Michael Dell (more on that later; I met him last night). And yes, I have my Mac laptop open. Liveblogging a bit…..

Markoff says that “unless we find a way to police the commercial internet, it won’t survive…. (or) we’ll have to walk away from the internet and leave it like you’d leave a bad neighborhood.” That is, he fears for attacks on servers from around the world. He says that we have “a thriving security industry that sells fear” but that has not done a good job protecting consumers. He talks about pirated copies of Vista coming with trojans and about botnets; Cerf adds that there may be more than 100 million machines ensnared in this giving the bad guys supercomputers, as Markoff says. He talks about malware that took up to 15 percent of Yahoo’s search to grab the random text that is going into the current wave of spam to get it through the filters. Markoff is asked whether policing is the right metaphor; Cerf says others call it a fire department and the goal is still to put out the fire. Toure says this needs a global response. So the metaphor shifts to pandemics and vaccinations.

Cerf adds that “in spite of all the turmoil… the internet seems to be working, it’s a very resilient system.” He says it’s not just the net that needs work but also the operating systems that allow hackers to dig deep into them to do bad.

Dell says that the internet is largely anonymous “but the question has to be asked, as these issues and challenges escalate into ever more disruptive and vexing problems can this continue to be an almost completely anonymous system.” Cerf replies that there are good reasons to authenticate and validate (e.g., servers, domains) and that they can build a more refined structure. “Anonymity has its value and also its risks.” He says he reminds us that the United States was built on anonymous tracts.

Asked to give good news, Dell jokes that he has was to get that spam to you faster. He says there are two big opportunities. One is the unused spectrum that will be freed up in the shift to digital TV and opens up new communication and devices. The other is fibre, where the U.S. is behind. “We think of that is the real broadband.”

Zitrain gives a typically cogent explanation of where we are: from the whimsy of the start of the internet to the hard reality of security invasions that are too great to count. He says it is like the days of the old phone network when the means of communication are the same as the means of control, allowing hackers to break in with a Cap’n Crunch whistle. Zittrain is worried about the world of information appliances tethered to their makers, allowing central control of our devices. He says that the solutions will come, “similar to global warming,” by finding ways to track what is happening to our environment.

  • “Michael Dell (more on that later; I met him last night)”
    Can’t wait for that one ;-)

    • armani

      no body controls the internet

  • Jeffrey,

    You still have not apologized properly for your part in promoting the Iraq War. Half a million and more are now dead.

    Why should anybody listen to you? A man who cannot acknowledge his own errors is a man who has nothing to teach others.

    The irony is that you make a living criticizing the media behometh to which you have parasitically attached yourself.

  • Are there folks from the Big Telcos running around there? Can you find one of those suits and ask ’em when we’re ever going to get the fiber optic we were promised (by BellSouth ’round these parts) last century? If they won’t give us (shareholders too) any fiber, then steal their lift tickets and spill coffee on their wife’s fur. Try anything!

  • I think Jeff has written about some change in opinion on Iraq.

    I would be more interested in reporting on how Al Jazeera is seen in Davos discussion. Maybe there is a change in balance re US media and new technology but so far I have not heard anything about al Jazeera or their request for info on the memo about bombing their offices, some time ago.

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  • Really policing the net ought to be easy. Simply stop ISPs who provide fee accounts. Web access can still be cost free, it can be tied to a telephone, cable or satellite TV subscription so long as there is some way of checking that it is attached to a real, traceable person.
    Then all that has to be addressed is the lunatic fringe idea of free speech. Stoppinhg hackers posting unsolicited scripts on people’s hard drives is not denying their right to free speech. People can deny the Holocaust if they want to but they have no right to come into my house and expound their crackpot theories. Same rules apply on the internet. People can send me mails about viagra (I don’t receive them) but they have no right to use my PC to send mails about anything to anybody.
    The web’s problems are more of politics than technology.

  • The Internet has control. Decentralized control. And it just gave me 12.5 million results for a “Davos” search on Google in 0.14 seconds, and often delivers five 9s of uptime for well managed Internet applications.

  • Internet Ownage is Oxymoronic

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