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Internet researcher pushes for tighter constraints

ORLANDO - Cyberspace researcher Jonathan Zittrain thinks that as people become more dependent on the Internet,...

more security restrictions will be needed.

Zittrain, an assistant Harvard law professor, told InfoSec World attendees Monday morning in his keynote address that the Internet must move from the cloudy, insecure forum of few constraints to one of more constraints in order to build trust. Zittrain is co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet Society in Cambridge, Mass., a research program at Harvard Law School dedicated to exploring cyberspace and pioneering its development.

"The PC is dead, it just doesn't know it yet," Zittrain said. "I think we're moving to a general-purpose box or boxes that do virtually everything." Such a move would lead to boxes that are more secure and less vulnerable to hacking.

Zittrain's dynamic 90-minute presentation gave insight into the future of an Internet-dependent society, how information will be secured therein and the role of security professionals.

"Trust means we can trust the Internet that it won't let you do what you want it to do," Zittrain said.

Zittrain bases his theory on the basic Internet model that begins with a source sending information to an Internet service provider. That information then enters a cloud of privately held servers that deliver the information to another ISP, then ultimately to the destination. This model, Zittrain said, applies to most modes of communication, including telephone, television and radio. Those private companies, however, riding the same clouds that the private companies running servers do, are regulated. "AT&T, for example, has to guarantee your phone call gets through, so long as you pay your bill," Zittrain said. "They cannot, however, listen to your phone calls and stop one from getting through if they don't like what's being said.

"Those same rules don't apply in the Internet."

Zittrain likens the Internet to a neighborhood dotted with houses with a wide street slicing through the middle. Keeping intruders out of each home is a private endeavor with homeowners responsible for their level of security. The street, however, is another question, he said. It is there that public control currently reigns, Zittrain said, in the name of intellectual control.

"It's not clear what recourse we have when private parties get together on a public function," Zittrain said. "Security and integrity are needed for control and can spawn control in the place of the commons."

As a result, Zittrain urges a tightening of the legal boundaries. "We need to make less palatable what the Net makes easy to do," he said.


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