IT security

The Future of the Internet: decentralisation for cyber security

By: Nick Lambert, Chief Operating Officer, MaidSafe
Published: Monday, January 25, 2016 - 12:03 GMT Jump to Comments

We cannot carry on spinning the roulette wheel that is cyber security, knowing that the “castle and moat” approach has failed to protect commercial interests and citizens’ identities.

I have spoken before about the current Internet model being broken and of the need for a fundamental re-design where users are in control of their data. We should accept the results of countless consumer surveys that point to users becoming increasingly fatigued and disenchanted with surveillance as a business model (your data in return for free services), and acknowledge that the shared economy, whilst an improvement, still does a poor job of distributing the huge reserves of online wealth.

If we also factor into the equation that citizens can no longer trust their own governments not to spy on them, it becomes clear that we need to transform the web.

Decentralising the Internet is the evolution of P2P

Many organisations have cottoned onto the fact that decentralising technologies, those solutions that remove central points (servers and companies) from serving and managing our data, are not new. Technologies like Bittorrent have been enabling file sharing for over 15 years. There are several other examples of P2P technologies that have disrupted their specific marketplaces including VOIP solutions like Skype and the Bitcoin Protocol.

The rise of Bitcoin has inspired a new generation of organisations who are bringing their own decentralised and distributed networks to the fore. Each one is designed in a different way to suit a specific use case. As we see these promising technologies come to fruition and achieve wide scale adoption, the infrastructure of our web services will change from a series of connected centralised networks to a paradigm of interconnected decentralised networks.

The Internet would rely on consensus between these decentralised networks in much the same way as humans and animal species coexist in a series of interconnected ecosystems, sub-divided by purpose and area of focus.

For example, we will see decentralised networks power the Internet of Things. Proof of concepts have already been presented in this area by IBM and Samsung. Decentralised commerce platforms such as Open Bizarre will potentially replace centralised services like Ebay. Data storage and communications will be facilitated on MaidSafe’s SAFE Network.

Data Controlled by Users, not Business

The key to achieving this ‘Internet of decentralised networks’ is to give control of data to the individual user, who will then have complete authority over how it is used.  From MaidSafe’s perspective, this ownership can only be achieved by making data unintelligible to all but its owner, ensuring identities are protected and unauthorised access becomes much more challenging.

Consumers will have to opt into ‘free’ services, knowingly accepting that their data will then be exploited for commercial purposes. This level of ownership can only be achieved by using the strongest possible encryption and fragmenting the data into shards, then scattering it across the network.

Only the end user with the correct credentials can reconstitute their files, and even the creation of a user account is a direct transaction between the user and the network with no central point or entity in between.

The Challenges Ahead

These fundamental protections have to be integral as we move towards this Internet of decentralised networks.  Without them we will simply perpetuate the same mistakes we are making today.  Changing the way the Internet functions will mean fundamental changes to the way we work, communicate and live, but technology is already driving significant change, so it should not surprise us if it continues to do so. I do, however, appreciate that this change will face challenges.

Snooping

The first challenge among them will be national security. If we are building an Internet of decentralised networks without central points of control, it will become more difficult for law enforcement agencies to attempt to track ‘bad guys’. We cannot pick and choose those who are afforded the privacy and security advantages of the decentralised approach. There seems to be very little evidence, however, that mass surveillance provides meaningful results.

Governments are only chasing a small group of individuals. Experience suggests that the volume of data gathered, as well as the techniques used to analyse it, do not equate to more effective intelligence. A decentralised approach will push law enforcement agencies to rethink their strategy.

The Real Shared Economy

This model has the potential to undermine the strategies of some large and powerful online companies. The advertising business model has been the dominant force, highly lucrative for a number of years and many will refuse to let go without a fight. There is, however, an alternative to this revenue model - one that will improve the online distribution of wealth.

We could reward everyone that contributes to the Internet by directly compensating the content creators, rather than channeling the incentives into the hands of just a few. It would seem like a much fairer and more sustainable system where we provide value to those who create it rather than those who aggregate it.

APIs are the Gateway

Finally, we need to find out a way to integrate these decentralised networks. APIs are clearly critical for this to be successful and there has already been a lot of discussion around the importance of such connectors to companies in the future. We are seeing consumer brands offering APIs to encourage developers to integrate their products and services with other applications. These gateways will have to be policed to ensure each inter-connected network is only receiving the information it is authorised to receive, but frankly that is not a major issue. Again it comes down to the individual’s control over their data.

If they have control of heavily encrypted client-side data, they will not be able to exploit that information unless the individual opts into an application. I’m sure George Orwell would have a lot to say about the current technology debates, particularly related to the failure of authorities to protect their citizens’ data. Once he had said “I told you so,” however, I’d like to think he would be willing to hear about the possibilities of a more democratic, consensus-based Internet underpinned by decentralised networks. It would certainly give citizens greater protection from ‘Big Brother’, but it could also lead to very exciting developments in terms of our economy and society.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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