How ‘Cyberwar’ Puts Internet Users at Risk

In cyberwar, it's hard to protect against collateral damage. But if the goal isn’t protecting citizens -- who are also Internet users -- then what is it?


Now that the Internet has become an international communications tool, there are plenty of bad actors including governments that conduct their conflicts online as well as off. Russell Brandom, a contributor for The Verge, notes that government conflict online is detrimental to all Internet users.

While governments around the world spend more on cybersecurity, Brandom points out that it’s difficult to protect against collateral damage online. “There’s no border to defend, no idea of national sovereignty. To the network, the Egyptian secret police don’t look that different from run-of-the-mill Russian scammers,” he writes.

In light of increasing government spyware and the presence of new online surveillance tools, Amnesty International has released a tool called Detekt. It allows users to scan their computers for the most popular forms of surveillance software. Amnesty International suggests that you may be at risk if you belong to the following groups: “human rights defenders, journalists, NGOs, political opponents, religious or ethnic minorities.”

The issue with “cyberwar” is that the tools that could be useful to users such as the Tor network are being targeted by governments at home and abroad. We’ve seen Tor help users in the past, but anyone using it may be turning themselves into a target for the NSA. Users and tech companies are fighting back, but that may not be enough.

Brandom writes:

The techniques behind these weapons (spyware) were all actively developed by organizations like the NSA before trickling out to more oppressive regimes. The same agencies are lobbying against encryption that might protect your conversations from being stolen, and planting backdoors in the algorithms you might use to encrypt your files. They’re buying up software vulnerabilities and keeping them secret.

Cybersecurity is a big issue for users, and potentially a larger issue for nations. However, if the goal is protection of states at the expense of users, then we’re doing the entire Internet a disservice. If the goal isn’t protecting citizens — who are also Internet users — then what is it?

“It isn’t America vs. China, and it isn’t cops vs. robbers. It’s boots vs. faces,” Brandom writes.

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