Yesterday we reported that due to an ongoing civil war in Syria, the country's Internet access -- in addition to downed phone lines and suspended air travel -- had been cut off, leaving the public with virtually no access to the outside world. Theories are still being posited regarding this particular blackout and how it happened, but, in the interim, Google and Twitter are working together to offer Syrians a means of communication via the Speak2Tweet service. Thanks to the aforementioned downed phone services in the country, this gesture may prove difficult.
internet kill switch
The conflict in Syria between rebels and government troops is nothing new. The country's been engaged in a bloody civil war for over a year now, and there are no signs of it getting better at any point soon. In fact, it's just gotten worse. As of 12:26PM Damascus time, Syria's essentially been cut off from the Internet. Like any good modern conflict, there's no clear cause and both sides are blaming each other.
Despite somewhat breathless warnings by people in support of "Internet kill-switch" legislation who say that hackers could unlock the floodgates of the Hoover Dam, killing thousands, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation assures everyone that this threat is unfounded. Why? Because the Hoover Dam is not connected to the Internet. For obvious reasons. (Hackers.)
After making it through the Homeland Security Committee in December, Senator Susan Collins' Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 faded from view during the mid-term changeover in Congress, and quite a few people fervently hoped that it would stay that way. Unfortunately, Wired Magazine was informed by the bill's sponsor on Friday that Collins plans to reintroduce the "internet kill switch" bill to a Senate committee quite soon. Friday, of course, was also the day that Egypt shut down it's own internet in a futile effort to stop mass protests. (An action that, if it continues past Sunday, may be significantly damaging to Egypt's economy.)
This is why many major policy decisions should not be made by a populace which, while well-meaning, is ignorant of the basic issues, or by the publicity-seeking politicians who pander to them.
Sixty-one percent of Americans said the President should have the ability to shut down portions of the Internet in the event of a coordinated malicious cyber attack, according to research by Unisys. … "A majority of the American population is willing to grant the President the authority to cut short their Internet access to protect both U.S. assets and citizens, suggesting that the public is taking cyber warfare very seriously," said Patricia Titus, VP and CISO, Unisys. "Our survey shows that the American public recognizes the danger of a cyber attack and wants the federal government to take an active role in extending the nation's cyber defense. It will be up to officials in all branches of the federal government to respond to this call to action in a way that is measured and well planned."
Yesterday evening, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved a bill that would allow the president to "shut down private sector or government networks" in the event of a cyber attack that threatened lives or other "major damage."
From The Hill:
"It's been frustrating to read some of the misrepresentations of our bill in the cybersphere," [Susan Collins, Republican Rep from Maine and co-sponsor of the bill] said, arguing the new bill actually circumscribes the president's existing authority and puts controls on its use. "I believe the substitute amendment we’re offering strengthens those protections even more."
Maybe that is because the objection is not against allowing the President to shut off the internet in certain circumstances, but allowing the President to shut off the internet at all.
There's been a lot of WTF-news making the rounds recently. Try this one on for size: Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), at it again, proposed a bill last week that would effectively bestow the president with the authority to "seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet," writes CNET.
Bill S.3480, or the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (PCNAA), has been dubbed the Internet "kill switch." According to the legislation, in the case of national emergencies, any private company that relies on the U.S. "information infrastructure" would be forced to comply with any orders (e.g. encrypt data, install a patch, or block web traffic) given by the president via the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC), a proposed agency that would be created under the Department of Homeland Security. I guess American freedom only goes so far!