Is our Internet secure?

There are plenty of horror stories to make us fear the Internet. But like stories that tell us Coke is bad (the drink, not the other kind), they do little to deter our voracious, borderline hedonistic consumption. We can’t let the terrorisms or naysayers win – and we take these Internet pirates as a plague we can expunge with vigilance. 

But the reality is, few of us understand our favourite tool. If we’re faced with the question of, for example, ‘who owns the Internet?’ we’re more likely to stare back slack jawed before tremulously indicting Google or Facebook as the overlords, or the government (which isn’t far from the truth).

Highly publicised security breaches – whether of secretive agencies, large companies or retiree’s bank accounts – leave internet users with a residual paranoia, expressed through a wariness of pop-ups and information requests.

So is our Internet secure?

Well, not entirely. Despite our best efforts to look after our personal information and avoid the Internet’s Star-Wars-cantina side, we don’t own our data. We’re meant to; officially, data belongs to whoever produces it, and can only be distributed or manipulated with permission. But whilst data may have our name written on it, it’s stored elsewhere.

The Internet’s inception can be likened to the big bang. At the start, everything went everywhere, exploded and extruded in a veritable orgasm of new information by small networks and individual users. It was a big repository, and everything was, as the pioneering developers had intended, decentralized. There was no control outside of protocols. The Internet wasn’t as pervasive and essential as today, but it was secure in so far that we – the users – held both lock and key. 

Overtime, to facilitate the Internet’s rapid growth, centralised databases were created to store increasingly large amounts of data. Centralised databases are single, secure locations – typically warehouses – with rows of temperature controlled servers. If you’ve seen any movie that touches upon cyber security in the past 10 years, you’ll have seen one (or at least the laymen’s impression of one).

The Internet became centralised – brought under the banner of big tech giants (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). Most of us now leverage cloud storage in one form or another; we trust another to preserve, protect and retain our data. Over the years, large groups have endeavoured to crop the Internet’s borders and contain its unkempt prairies, but the Internet was intended to be uncontainable and wild, not regulated. 

Given the average Internet user’s awareness of the behind-the-curtain mechanisms, the idea of absolute individual control is frightening. Education of the Internet has fallen far behind its use. The consequence of the Internet’s mass appeal and usability is ignorance, as we blindly defer to services offered to us. Convenient, yes, but akin to the milkman delivering produce from uncertain origins.

The Internet is comprised of individuals and corporations, with the latter wielding greater control. It’s far from infallible, and the structures that underpin its security remain vulnerable. New technologies, such as blockchain technology, are set disrupt the Internet’s current paradigm, part-way returning it to its decentralized origins. Our Internet is as secure as the organizations that currently store our data, and genuine control can only be reasserted once we reclaim true ownership.