3. Political mandate
In the face of the 2010 post-election riots in Iran, the government there shut down the Internet for 45 minutes, presumably to set up filtering of YouTube, Twitter and other sites. Egypt did the same during its revolution of early 2011. China is actively pursuing the capability to shut down its own Internet this way.But it’s not just countries like Iran and China that think about this kind of control over the Web. On June 24, 2010, a Homeland Security committee in the U.S. Senate approved a bill giving the president authority to wield an “Internet kill switch.” The bill, Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA), proposed to give the president “emergency authority to shut down private sector or government networks in the event of a cyber attack capable of causing massive damage or loss of life.”The “kill switch” provision was removed from the version of the cybersecurity bill that’s before the current Congress.
It’s probably just as well. Almost unanimously, Internet security analysts feel that shutting down the Web would inevitably do more harm than good, given our predicted level of dependency on it in time of war for news, communication with loved ones and crisis information aggregation.
Security guru Bruce Schneier identifies at least 3 problems with the shutdown idea. First, the hope of building an electronic line of fortifications is flawed because there will always be hundreds of ways for enemies to get around it. No nation or legal decree can plug all the holes.
The second major problem is that we will be entirely unable to predict the effects of such an attempted shutdown. As Schneier puts it: “The Internet is the most complex machine mankind has ever built and shutting down portions of it would have all sorts of unforeseen ancillary effects.”
The third major problem is the security hole it exposes. Once a domestic Internet kill switch has been built, why would a cyberattacker concentrate his efforts on anything else?
Given that the number of people who could use the Internet for good in a crisis situation will presumably outnumber the bad guys, it is probably best to not cut off our heavy dependence on the Web just as things are going bad. Given that a recent survey by Unisys found 61% of Americans approve of the Internet kill-switch concept, this issue will require constant vigilance.
Tell your congressmen: Back away from the switch, slowly.