by Oxblood Ruffin | Sep 19, 2011
- H.H. Dalai Lama
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik I. It was nothing short of a shock to the US and it had no choice but to retaliate, at least in terms of innovation. President Dwight Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to recapture the technological lead in the arms race. The idea of a national communications network was hatched. It was designed in such a way that if one node was shut down owing to, say, a military strike, the network would stay up and running.
The ARPANET went live in 1969. Over time, universities in the United States and Europe were connected and the Internet became a sort of geeky communications medium with military network development happening quietly on the side.
Then there was a tectonic shift. Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the World Wide Web in 1990 and changed the entire playing field. The Web represents the mainstreaming and democratisation of the Internet. As of March 2011, there were over 2 billion Internet users internationally. The Internet is a global communications medium of staggering proportions. It has become an international publishing platform, a marketplace, and a battleground.
But the fruit never falls far from the tree.
Something akin to the Cold War has re-emerged. Only, instead of the US and the Soviet Union it is now the US and China jockeying for position; defining and fighting for zones of influence; forming coalitions of nation states, and non-state actors; and, never quite boiling over.
We are living in the age of the Cool Maneuvers, a period of intense and sustained virtual struggle on the Internet. But unlike the Cold War which was animated by fear of nuclear annihilation, the Cool Maneuvers cannot be attributed to any one event or factor. Broadly speaking the information revolution has restructured society, challenged centrally managed institutions, and empowered individuals. On the Internet anyone can become powerful, and many are attempting to become so.
The threat scenarios for cyberspace are many. Cybercrime is far and away the greatest challenge to individuals through fraud and identity theft. State and corporate sponsored cyber-espionage can rock governments and corporations; some impact has also been generated in this category by cyber-activists, Anonymous being the principle practitioner.
And all of this is causing a great deal of hyperventilation. Breathless editorialists are warning of the dangers of cyberwar and digital Pearl Harbours as if these things could actually happen. The likelihood of some sort of Internet Armageddon is so unlikely that such speculations are better suited to Bollywood backlots than any serious consideration. Remember, the Cold War came about because governments realised after Hiroshima that their countries could not afford a nuclear war. By the same logic, there will be no cyber meltdown.
Just for starters, it is in no one’s interest to shut down the Internet. Cyber-criminals would do everything to keep it up and running — it’s their bread and butter. Governments need the Net to conduct cyber-espionage as do corporate players and cyber-activists. Anything other than a well-functioning Internet would be counter-productive. The entire objective is to steal sensitive data and monitor one’s political opposition.