Grand terms like cyberwar or cyberterror may grab headlines--but just like in real life, it's the bad neighborhoods that pose the biggest danger to everyday Internet users, Web experts said on Wednesday.
Phishing scams, viruses, and other threats need to be addressed to help most Internet users, said David Clark, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
At a Capitol Hill event on Wednesday, Clark joined three other authors, including Google’s Vint Cerf, who contributed to the fall issue of the Academy’s journal Daedalus. The volume includes 10 articles on “protecting the Internet as a public commons.”
"We need the Internet equivalent of being able to tell when we are 'going into a bad neighborhood,' " Clark wrote in the journal's introduction. "Will this website infest my machine with malicious software? Will it attempt to steal information about me? Will this merchant defraud me?"
Citing recent Pew research that found as much as 20 percent of Americans choose not to use the Internet, Clark said issues like privacy and security need to be resolved to help encourage more people to feel comfortable going online.
In an essay on the consequences of not being connected online, TechNet Vice President John Horrigan agreed.
“As more people use broadband-connected networks, the cost to those not on the network rises at more than exponential rates when even a few people are excluded,” he wrote.
Some of the questions that must be answered in order to help secure cyberspace include the role of government emergency responders, jurisdictional issues, and how to attribute criminal activity, said Cerf, one of the early Internet pioneers and now Google’s chief Internet evangelist.
Technical fixes; detection and punishment; and moral suasion could go a long way towards mitigating the risks of such “bad neighborhoods” online, Cerf said.
He argued that it is a “fantasy” that extra security measures can completely ensure safety online and simply plugging holes in Internet security won’t work all by itself.
Educated users who understand safety measures are key to reducing online risks, he said. “Ask not what the Internet can do for you; ask what you can do for the Internet,” Cerf quipped.