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2018 Marconi Society Symposium: Restoring Trust on the Internet

By Vint Cerf

Earlier this month, we brought the Marconi Society back to its roots in Bologna, Italy, to honor our 2018 Marconi Fellow, Tom Leighton – as well as our Young Scholars – and to host our 2018 Symposium focused on security, privacy and trust on the Internet.

Many thanks to our speakers and panelists for their incredible range of perspectives.  Restoring trust on the Internet will take advancements in a number of areas.  Here are a few of my takeaways from an outstanding day:

  • Social networks – there are a number of aspects to this complicated situation and, given the interference we have seen in civil processes, including elections, it is no exaggeration to say that dark uses of social networks are threatening democracies. A few things that stood out to me from our discussion include:
    • We are on the verge of government intervention, from policy to regulation. Not only will we need to understand the right interventions, we will need to be able to enforce the rules that are put in place.
    • We need a well-crafted education effort to help us recognize and combat addictive habits and incentives leading to polarization.  Alternative business models to advertising are sorely needed.
    • Identifying and disabling bots will be critical in social networks as it is across the Internet. With a significant amount of Internet traffic coming from bots, this is an issue for every connected service.
  • Mitigating cyber threats
    • It appears that defensive measures alone may no longer suffice. We are moving from “walls and locks” to policing and active investigation. Attribution remains a major challenge.
    • Anytime we use the term “smart,” it needs to include security.
    • We need to consider resilience in all matters.
    • Cyberspace is the fifth domain of warfare, in addition to land, sea, air and space.
    • As we consider how to protect our critical infrastructure, we need to remember that dependency = vulnerability.
    • NIST’s Cybersecurity Framework has five functions:  Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover.  Simulations will be critical in testing our defenses.
  • Privacy
    • There can be little doubt that privacy is now at a premium in the real and virtual worlds. Every smart phone has a camera and people are uploading images to sharing services in increasing numbers. We don’t have any control over what other people upload.
    • Breaches of online systems are increasing in frequency and scale with concomitant risks and harms. The legal strictures regarding what is called Personally Identifiable Information are narrowly construed while the loss of privacy is much broader in scope.
    • While elaborate schemes for protecting information through cryptography may solve some of the problem, I am persuaded that societal norms will be needed to produce the desired effect: a society that treats privacy as a normal social benefit. Moreover, we will need better attribution and cooperative law enforcement to deal with the perpetrators of harmful online acts.
  • Technical solutions – many companies, including Akamai, are developing specific technology to make the Internet safer and more secure. Akamai is doing very sophisticated filtering to identify malware, DOS attacks, bots and other dark uses of the Internet.  Their efforts to scale security at the edge are critical for network safety and performance.

Thanks also to our audience, who shared some thought-provoking questions and comments. We were proud to host this unique collection of thought leaders.