Security is one of the biggest concerns we face – with viruses, spams and worms intruding into our space. The Economist discusses this issue further and considers what lies ahead:
The issue boils down to the question of how much anonymity society can tolerate on the internet. Drivers’ licences and registration plates dramatically reduce the incidence of hit-and-run accidents. Crack cocaine is never bought by credit card. If everybody on the internet were easily traceable, people would think twice about hacking. I’m kind of a fan of eliminating anonymity, says Alan Nugent, the chief technologist at Novell, a software company, if that is the price for security.
The internet is heading in this direction already. Enrique Salem, Brightmail’s chief executive, says that all e-mail in future will either be authenticated or be sent into a quarantined in-box where few will dare to click. The sender’s authentication may well be tied to a driving licence, social-security number or passport. An entire industry has sprung up to work on other forms of identification, such as the biometric scanning of irises or hands.
The reality, however, is that the internet is already balkanised. Companies and governments have intranets, where users’ privileges depend on their log-in. Virtual private networks (VPNs) traverse the public internet like guarded convoys. For example, employees at Merrill Lynch, an investment bank, cannot check their Hotmail or Yahoo! e-mail accounts while surfing the internet at work.
The proper analogy for what the internet might evolve into, says Novell’s Mr Nugent, is a public library, a place where readers can browse in relative anonymity, but only until they take a book out, at which point they have to identify themselves. The degree of traceability varies with what one does in such a place.