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Mittwoch, 29. September 2010

Cybercrime – a dangerous dynamic for the global village?


From my point of view it was the most interesting session (here at the Global Economic Symposium in Istanbul) yet because experts were sitting on the panel whose responsibility was for particular issues, not just a matter of form.

The first panelist kicked off by mentioning “Brian”, the first internet virus to gain notoriety back in 1986. Back then hobby enthusiasts just wanted to have fun. But the times have changed, and we now have organized criminal gangs, e-spionage (not only between countries but between companies too) and outright cyberwar. It’s now possible to make a business just by buying viruses. This has spawned a flourishing underworld economy in the internet which we still can’t quantify in terms of “services” or “industry”.

All these problems in internet security are the results of mistakes in programming coupled with our false conceptions of what hackers are. Earlier bad programs just crashed, today the bugs are internet–savvy and used by criminals. This brought on the question what can we do about it? The experts sketched in a whole set of tools and solutions.

We need more liabilities and reliabilities in the IT industry. Surprisingly enough, Microsoft was cited as a good example of a company that paid attention to the need to combat cybercrime. In 2003 they really changed their attitude after a whole series of close shaves, scares and alerts with their software.

Intelligence agencies must be experts in gauging which way the wind is blowing. Sophisticated hackers with deep technical know-how are the stuff of a billion dollar market and there is a huge demand for such competence. But such hackers are mainly recruited by criminal gangs in Russia and China prowling the internet. Why are there no western companies keen to bring in hackers to reinforce security in their own IT systems? What have we doing in the past years instead? Slapping them in prison with hefty 5-25 year sentences! A huge mistake and an outrageous waste of talent - it would have been far better to identify and make timely use of their tremendous skills and abilities.

We can do this by taking account of hacker psychology. Many hackers are addicted to gaming and some of them show  a low level of socialization in the real world (sometimes due to the autism of Asperger’s syndrome) while simultaneously exhibiting astonishingly advanced abilities in mathematics, physics and engineering (at this point the panelist had yet to mention any specific study). If we could take such considerations into account we could reach them before it was too late.

Cybercrime is internationally connected. Thus we also need more intensive forms of cooperation between companies and states at a supranational level. The challenge is how to focus the attention of (political and economic) leaders on issues of cybernet security given that none of them have any personal experience in these internet things.

We can also help ourselves by being more relaxed about how to communicate in the internet and about the internet itself. Maybe we should give the general public a simple tool with which they can report incidents of internet crime.
At the end of this session we concluded that cybercrime is a multi tentacle hydra that impacts on many levels of legal, political and international concerns so we have no easy answers.
As a parting shot I should also mention that during discussions a negative scenario was brought up introducing the threat of the internet breaking up under the weight of cultural clashes in understanding its mechanisms and rules.

Yet the main question - what does this all mean in terms of using the internet as a tool for solving global challenges?  - was not touched on. In a discussion after the session we agreed that many cultural clashes – age, gender, cultural, digital native or digital immigrant – pose a threat to the use of the net for a positive objective. Sharply put, this could mean that the net does not bring people together but rather splits them apart. I myself don’t buy into this negative scenario. But then again what do we need to do not to end up in such a clash?

Panelists of this session were:
Misha Glenny (Journalist)
Rex Hughes (Fellow Chatham House)
Bryan Glick (Journalist)
Mikko H. Hyppönen (IT expert for security)
Robert Wainwright (Director Europol)