Quick Study


Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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No cyberwar? Say it ain't so, Howie!

The new White House cybersecurity czar doesn’t believe in cyberwar, preferring to see the battle over security as more of a crime-fighting and anti-espionage effort. Can’t you just hear the turf war bells ringing?

Howard Schmidt told Wired magazine at this week’s RSA conference that he considered cyberwar “a terrible metaphor” and a “terrible concept.” There are no winners in that environment, he said.

Fair enough. There’s probably plenty of people who would agree with him, but it’s hard to stop the juggernaut once it’s underway. There were also plenty of people who thought the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks should have been prosecuted as criminal offenses, and look how far they got.

If Schmidt really believes what he said – and keep your eyes open for an explanatory statement or a ‘I was misquoted’ quote – then he’s going to run into a lot of flak in Washington, because the reaping of power and influence is now dependent on future cyberwars.

The former director of national intelligence Michael McConnell in a Senate hearing recently compared the danger of cyberwar to the threat of nuclear war with the former Soviet Union, and said the U.S. would lose if it waged cyberwar today. How’s that for a set up?

But there’s other signs that the argument for cyberwar is well advanced. The Navy is talking about advancing cyber defense,  and in the military when you talk about defense, there’s also an understanding that will also involve offense. The Defense Department isn’t establishing a Cyber Command as a passive organization.

Schmidt has been around Washington before, and he certainly isn’t dumb. If he really believes there is no cyberwar, then he’s also got to know he’s tilting at a lot of already entrenched interests. And, in Washington, there’s no bigger invitation to trouble.

Posted on Mar 05, 2010 at 7:27 PM2 comments


Getting out in front of the burgeoning data deluge

Digital preservation is one of those issues that everyone thinks is obvious; it also is one that no one really talks about and, least of all, offers any solutions for.

Everyone will have yet another chance to confront the issue on April 1 when the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access plans to hold a symposium in Washington on “sustainable digital preservation practices.” It will include a wide range of organizations whose existence depends upon digital preservation, such as Google, as well as representatives from the publishing and movie industries. There also surely will be plenty of government involvement as well.

This isn’t a new subject, but it’s one that rarely makes the headlines. Data protection is all the rage, and producing data comes in a close second, but who ever talks about preserving it? It’s taken as given. Every now and then stories about the work of the National Archives or Library of Congress are published but never seem to make it onto the most-popular or most-read lists.

But think about it: We are now well into the exabyte-per-year era of data (1 billion gigabytes), and reports from outfits such as the International Data Corp. predict a doubling of the size of the digital universe every 18 months. Given the explosion in social media, and the coming one in online video, I’d say that’s conservative.

How do you store all of that data, let alone find ways to manage it so you can retrieve it and make use of it? Government mandates on retaining data aren’t going away, after all.

The blue ribbon panel recently came out with a report that examines the economies involved with both preserving data and making sure it can be accessed.

In an earlier article, task force member Dr. Fran Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California-San Diego, talked about what’s needed to meet the data-cyberinfrastructure challenge.

Good stuff. I’m sure that and lots more will be discussed at the April 1 symposium. But will anybody be listening?

Posted on Mar 03, 2010 at 7:27 PM0 comments


A heavier government hand may shape Internet policy

Ever since the advent of the Internet back in the early 1990s the government’s philosophy has been to step back and let innovators and entrepreneurs drive the growth of the information superhighway (remember that?), but the growing complexities of the online universe are forcing it to contemplate a more activist role.

At least that’s the argument that Lawrence Strickland, the assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, made recently for the windup to what he’s calling the age of Internet Policy 3.0.

Stages 1.0 and 2.0 went through commercialization of the Internet through growth, leading to the “social innovation” that’s the current big driver of the Web and the Internet. Now, it’s “time to respond to all the social changes being driven by the growth of the Internet”, according to Strickland, and thus the need for Internet Policy 3.0.

As Strickland sees it, everyone has much higher expectations of the Internet today than previously, as it has become the central nervous system for modern society:

“It is important not only to preserve but to enhance access to this open and dynamic medium that fosters unprecedented innovation and public participation. … [T]he Internet is not a natural park or wilderness area that should be left to nature.

“It’s more accurate to describe the Internet is an agglomeration of human actors — a large and growing social organization. There are no natural laws to guide it, and there is most certainly no self-regulating equilibrium point because this cacophony of human actors participating in this organization demands that there be rules or laws created to protect our interests,” Strickland writes.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which Strickland heads, has a slew of policy initiatives it will be tackling this year ranging from privacy to cybersecurity and governance of the Internet itself. Strickland went so far as to define a new focus for his agency – the “I” in NTIA now stands for Internet/information policy.

He also said in a throwaway line that if all of this is successful, perhaps the NITIA could become the “National Trust the Internet Administration.”

That would be a coup, because the last thing most of the Internet-Web universe would admit to is trusting government involvement. However, he promises collaboration in all of this, but only time will tell.

Posted on Mar 01, 2010 at 7:27 PM1 comments


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