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Good, Evil, Digital: The Promise and Peril of Life in the Cyber Lane (link suite overview)

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TrackerNews link suite on internet freedom, internet security and the power of digital networks. Links become part of the TrackerNews searchable database.

“Good, Evil, Digital” is one of the largest link-suite “stories” we have ever featured on the aggregator, with more than four dozen links to articles, books, videos, websites and software tools. It has also been one of the most fascinating to research and challenging to assemble.

Internet freedom and internet security are two sides to the same coin:

Likewise, determining who’s a hero and who’s a villain isn’t always so clear cut. When ad hoc vigilante “hackivists” under the theatrically ominous moniker “Anonymous” go after the inarguably awful Iranian government, it’s Robin Hood in bits and bytes. It is a tougher call for “Operation: Titstorm,” which targeted the Australian government over censorship issues, using porn as the standard bearer for free speech.

The curious case of Aaron Barr, a software security expert singled out for attack, crosses the line straight to creepy. Barr, who had boasted of being able to strip the hacktivists of their most precious asset—anonymity—found himself on the wrong end of some sharply aimed code. The Anonymous crew tunneled through tens of thousands of Barr’s emails, making them public, along with his cell number, address and social security number. Found among the email booty, a possible smoking gun, implicating not one, not two, but three security firms proposing a variety of dirty tricks—including cyber attacks—on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.

In the midst of all this cyber-sniping, some are calling for a “Geneva Convention” to outline the rules of cyberwarfare, spare “civilian targets” and inject some ethics into battle.  Others say the “war” analogy doesn’t really work when dealing with an enemy can’t be seen or even tracked all that easily. The “Stuxnet” worm that attacked Iranian nuclear facilities, for example, was designed to cover the evidence of its own existence. It went about wrecking gyroscopes with commands to speed up and slow down while simultaneously generating data reporting that everything was operating as it should.

Meanwhile, the award for innovation in mobile data distribution goes to the Jihadists, for whom Bluetooth has become a “…a distribution mechanism of choice. ” From crunching video files to developing special encryption-friendly operating systems, they’ve got it down.

Taking the opposite tack, Egyptian-Googler-turned-freedom-fighter Wael Ghonim and a network-savvy generation placed their bets on openness, struggling to keep a nascent revolution alive through posts on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the 18 days of unprecedented protest, the government tried everything it could to throttle communication, including shutting down the country’s internet and cell phone services.

Despite the limits, the “Facebook revolution” prevailed, not only sweeping a despot from office, but also shredding in the process Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis on activism and the “strong ties” of personal friendships versus the “weak ties” of internet networks. Clearly, is not an either/or choice, but a powerful cross-reinforcing combination.

Indeed, at this point, the only force that could possibly bring down the internet and put an end to this furious, sometimes frightening, often marvelous flowering of digital communication is an extra-terrestrial event: a solar storm. And it could happen. After years of quietly shining in the distance 93 million miles away, the sun is starting what scientists dryly describe as a “more active phase.” Tongues of particle-charged plasma are reaching across the heavens to short circuits here on Earth. In 1859, a solar storm fried telegraph lines. Today, that same storm would cause an estimated $2 trillion worth of “initial damage,” which could take a decade or more to fix. What Mubarek couldn’t manage, Apollo can do in a blink.


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