WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

Tim Berners-Lee, above, says he is worried about how the internet is being used. (AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019
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WWWorries? Inventor of Web laments coming-of-age woes

  • Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN as a software engineer when he invented the hypertext-transfer protocol
  • He hopes countries can make the web available to more citizens

GENEVA: The inventor of the World Wide Web knows his revolutionary innovation is coming of age, and doesn’t always like what he sees: state-sponsored hacking, online harassment, hate speech and misinformation among the ills of its “digital adolescence.”
Tim Berners-Lee issued a cri-de-coeur letter and spoke to a few reporters Monday on the eve of the 30-year anniversary of his first paper with an outline of what would become the web — a first step toward transforming countless lives and the global economy.
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, plans to host Berners-Lee and other web aficionados on Tuesday. “We’re celebrating, but we’re also very concerned,” Berners-Lee said.
Late last year, a key threshold was crossed — roughly half the world has gotten online. Today some 2 billion websites exist.
The anniversary offers “an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go,” Berners-Lee said, calling the “fight” for the web “one of the most important causes of our time.”
He is convinced the online population will continue to grow, but says accessibility issues continue to beset much of the world.
“Look at the 50 percent who are on the web, and it’s not so pretty for them,” he said. “They are all stepping back suddenly horrified after the Trump and Brexit elections realizing that this web thing that they thought was so cool has actually not necessarily been serving humanity very well.”
The anniversary is also a nod to the innovative, collaborative and open-source mindset at the Geneva-based CERN, where physicists smash particles together to unlock secrets of science and the universe.
As a young English software engineer, Berners-Lee came up with the idea for hypertext-transfer protocol — the “http” that adorns web addresses — and other building blocks for the web while working at CERN in March 1989. Some trace the actual start of the web to 1990, when he released the first web browser.
Berners-Lee reminisced about how he was really out to get disparate computer systems to talk to one another, and resolve the “burning frustration” over a “lack of interoperability” of documentation from disparate computing systems used at CERN in the late 1980s.
Now, the hope of his World Wide Web Foundation is to enlist governments, companies, and citizens to take a greater role in shaping the web for good under principles laid out in its “Contract for the Web.”
Under the contract’s sweeping, broad ambition, governments are supposed to make sure everyone can connect to the Internet, to keep it available and to respect privacy. Companies are to make the Internet affordable, respect privacy and develop technology that will put people — and the “public good” — first. Citizens are to create and to cooperate and respect “civil discourse,” among other things.
To Berners-Lee, the web is a “mirror of humanity” where “you will see good and bad.”
“The Contract for the Web recognizes that whether humanity, in fact, is constructive or not actually depends on the way you write the code of the social network,” he said.
Some tough regulation may be necessary in some places, in others not, Berners-Lee said.
On one issue, he’s insistent: “Net neutrality — strong regulation,” Berners-Lee said, hammering a fist on the table. He was alluding to a principle that anyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to video, music, email, photos, social networks, maps and other online material.
Berners-Lee said the web has created opportunity, made lives easier and given the marginalized a voice, but “it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.”
Ultimately, his “Contract” proposal is not about “quick fixes,” but a process for shifting people’s relationship with the online world, he said.
“It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future,” he wrote.


EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

Updated 17 May 2019
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EU adopts powers to respond to cyberattacks

  • The EU can now impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in cyberattacks
  • Sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a ‘significant impact’ on its target

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Friday adopted powers to punish those outside the bloc who launch cyberattacks that cripple hospitals and banks, sway elections and steal company secrets or funds.
EU ministers meeting in Brussels said the 28-nation group would now, for the first time, be able to impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, firms and state bodies implicated in such attacks.
“The Council (of EU countries) established a framework which allows the EU to impose targeted restrictive measures to deter and respond to cyberattacks,” it said in a statement.
It added that sanctions will be considered if a cyberattack is determined to have had a “significant impact” on its target.
The goal is to bolster the security of EU institutions, firms and individuals against what Britain called an increase in the “scale and severity” of cyberattacks globally.
“This is decisive action to deter future cyberattacks,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after Britain and its EU partners drafted the measures.
“For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU’s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros,” Hunt said.
“Our message to governments, regimes and criminal gangs prepared to carry out cyberattacks is clear,” Britain’s top diplomat added.
“Together, the international community will take all necessary steps to uphold the rule of law and the rules based international system which keeps our societies safe.”
The British government has pledged to continue close cooperation with the EU after it leaves the bloc in line with the 2016 referendum.
Under the sanctions regime, diplomats said, the 28 EU countries would have to vote unanimously to impose sanctions after meeting a legal threshold of significant impact.
For example, countries would look at the scope and severity of disruption to economic and other activities, essential services, critical state functions, public order or public safety, diplomats said.
They would examine the number of people and EU countries affected and determine how much money, intellectual property and data have been stolen.
EU diplomats told reporters it could also cover the hacking of European elections by a third party or country. Elections for a new European Parliament take place May 23-26.
In line with US intelligence assessments, EU officials highlight in particular the threat of disinformation and election hacking from Russia.
EU countries would also study how much the perpetrator has gained through such action.
A Dutch diplomat told reporters that the powers amount to a “big step forward” toward building a more secure cyberspace.
European leaders in October had called for a regime to impose sanctions against cyberattacks.
US and European police said Thursday they have smashed a huge international cybercrime network that used Russian malware to steal 100 million dollars from tens of thousands of victims worldwide.
EU diplomats said the bloc will now start drawing up a blacklist for potential sanctions in cyberattack cases.
A number of powerful people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin appear on a blacklist of 164 Russians and Ukrainians that was established after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Those blacklisted are under travel bans and asset freezes just like those that would be imposed on those implicated in cyberattacks.