The Emergence of a New Wild West in Cyberspace

May 3, 2016 | 11:34
By 2020 cyberspace will become a new Wild West
By 2020 cyberspace will become a new Wild West
By 2020 the security of the internet will be so abysmal, that anyone who goes online must assume their systems and data are already compromised. The digital realm will become a new Wild West where anyone who wishes to travel the wires in safety will need to organize it for themselves.  

That alarming vision is 1 of 5 scenarios describing what the future of the internet may look like in 2020. The scenarios are developed by the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity of the University of California Berkeley. The aim of the exercise is to identify emerging issues that could become a threat to internet security.

The long view
As the name suggests the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) takes the long view on information technology security. In a field that is mostly driven by immediate threat response and improving known technical flaws in internet architecture, the CLTC has a more holistic approach. It does not only look at technology but also at socio-economic and policy developments to get a broader understanding of cybersecurity.

As part of this mission, the Center developed 5 threat scenarios describing what could undermine the security of the internet by the year 2020. The scenarios were created with the input of more than a 100 experts from the private sector, nonprofits, and governments, and are described in a report published in April.

Scenarios aren't predictions, the authors of the report emphasize. It is impossible to predict the future of something as complex as the internet because its development is pushed forward by multiple forces. To be able to anticipate and prepare for an unknowable future, scenario planning can be used as a tool to formulate plausible narratives. These can serve as a framework to consider the long-term consequences of decisions made today.  

New Normal
Scenario 1 is called New Normal and is the above-described Wild West that emerges after the total collapse of law and order online. People will access the internet under the assumption that none of their online activities are secure. Of all 5 scenarios New Normal may feel the most familiar to present-day internet users, the authors say in the report. Having learned about the NSA's all but omnipresence in online systems from whistleblower Edward Snowden and with regular headlines about massive data breaches, this portrayal seems closer to 'normal' than 'new'. Tellingly, the authors note that not only the "paranoid" believe they already live in this paradigm but also the "well-informed".
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