NY Times essay (Worse Than You Think)

In this New York Times Room for Debate discussion, I discuss the broader context around the recent Twitter hack, here The New York Times

The Buried Threats in That Tweet:
Worse Than You Think

(Last Updated) September 22, 2010, 10:23 PM

Ron Deibert is the director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He is a founder and principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects.

Another day, another vulnerability, another mass exploit.The Twitter worm was a simple trick — one of the smallest pieces of codes in worm history — that rippled across the planet in waves. About 100 users per second reportedly fell victim to it at its peak.

While the consequence of this Twitter worm seemed fleeting, the malady it represents is profoundly complex and not easily solved.Who propagated it? First, there is the coder himself; then, the experimentalists who want to see if it actually works (and are astonished when it does); followed, invariably and frighteningly quick by the vast parasitic worlds of pornography and crime. And finally, there are the users, clicking reflexively like experimental mice on any link or document that is sent their way. The fix came relatively fast in this case, but the disease that it represents is far from cured.

We have created a hypermedia environment characterized by constant innovation from the edges, extensive social sharing of data and mobile networking from multiple platforms and locations. We have immersed ourselves and entrusted our information to “clouds” and social networking services operated by thousands of companies of all shapes, sizes and geographic locations. We have turned our digital lives inside out in an electronic web of our own spinning, but have yet to fully experience its unintended consequences.

While convenient and fun, this environment is also a dangerous brew, and an opportunity structure ripe for crime and espionage to flourish. A largely hidden and massively exploding ecosystem is parasitically thriving off of our insecure data-sharing practices, and vulnerable browsers, servers and Web sites. The perpetrators range from criminals and click fraud artists to sinister agents of corporate and political espionage. Malware and denial-of-service attacks on human rights and opposition groups are increasingly de rigeur for repressive regimes.

Major social transformations like this are not easily reversed or altered. Creative change from the edges of the network is a central characteristic of cyberspace. Data sharing and social networking are now deeply ingrained digital habits in our link-added society. An arms race in cyberspace is blurring the boundaries of cybercrime and espionage. We are heading into a perfect storm of insecurity and exploitation the causes of which are connected to vast and powerful global forces.

While the consequence of this particular Twitter worm may have been seemingly harmless, the malady that it represents is profoundly complex and not easily solved.