The Internet as a Two-Edged Sword

There is a thought-provoking piece by Patrick Radden Keefe in the Village Voice about the “darknet”. If that's a new term for anyone, Keefe says that:

“In 2002 four Microsoft engineers published a paper in which they coined the term the “darknet.” This was essentially an extensive and opaque Internet black market, ‘not a separate physical network but an application and protocol layer riding on existing networks…'”

Keefe goes on to look at the relation between the darknet and terrorism:

“The dark regions of the Internet have allowed Al Qaeda to reconstitute itself as a virtual terrorist group, one that is beginning, through its masterful distribution of propaganda, to resemble not so much an organization as a movement, and one that has used America's accelerated rate of technological growth to its own advantage…

“Bin Laden associates employ cutting-edge steganography, which involves implanting a text message into a single image or letter on a website. “

He argues government agencies are ill-prepared to deal with these threats, that Internet users are unwitting accomplices, and that Internet technology, which promised so much “good”, is a two-edged sword:

“If American forces are unaccustomed to pursuing adversaries through the caves of Afghanistan or the streets of Baghdad, they will have even more trouble tracking Al Qaeda online, because Internet technology favors the fugitive criminal and the migrant threat, and because terrorists know how to turn the new digital divide to their advantage. In this evasive game they have at their disposal a most unusual accomplice: unwitting Americans with personal computers and Internet connections…

“What's… unsettling is that American computer users may assist in this growth phase for Al Qaeda.”

The article keeps coming back to the idea that to escape detection, terrorists hijack legitimate resources left vulnerable because people don't understand how to protect them. And this, of course, speaks directly to the urgency of the need for an identity system for the Internet: an identity system that people fully understand and are willing to buy into because it is designed in accordance with the laws of identity.

Just for the record, while the concept is very key, I'm not a fan of the word “darknet”. I think we can do better than that. The dark-light dichotomy is too last-century.

Published by

Kim Cameron

Work on identity.