Black Hat 2015 Keynote: Security Professionals Need To Stand Up For Open Internet

Jennifer Granick at Black Hat

The Internet was founded on the dream of an open platform with freedom of speech and global communication, but recent changes around regulation, centralization and globalization are threatening that opportunity, Jennifer Granick said in the Wednesday opening keynote at Black Hat 2015 in Las Vegas.

"I'm here to tell you today that this dream of Internet freedom is dying," Granick said. "The question that is left [is], is that dream still possible?"

Granick is director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and is well-known in security circles for her prominent criminal cases defending hackers and security professionals.

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Through neglect and evolutionary trends, Granick said, she sees a shift toward a more regulated and centralized Internet, through recent events like the congressional push for crypto backdoors, surveillance, censorship in countries like France, vendor cooperation with handing over customer data and more. Adding to that mix is globalization, she said, which opens up the Internet to nations that don't necessarily have the same speech and human rights protections that the United States does.

"It's dying," Granick said. "No one is murdering the dream, but it's dying because, for better or for worse, we've started to put other values ahead of openness and freedom."

This is a problem for security professionals and everyone who uses the Internet, Granick maintained, because it clamps down on the ability to tinker and innovate new technology, hampers equality and halts understanding of algorithms and software that could ultimately make life and death decisions for people.

Complicating this problem is people who have "lost their allegiance" to Internet freedom, which is clashing head on with the "ugly reality that people can suck," Granick said, citing recent examples of revenge porn, bullying and more.

The result is an Internet and an industry that are at an inflection point, Granick said, one that will define the next 20 years of technology. With the path the industry is currently on, Granick said, she expects the Internet will be more like watching TV than the global conversation it was envisioned to be. There will be less awareness of the world around us from censorship and more surveillance, she said.

There is an alternative, though, she said, if industries like security step up to the plate. She said security will have to push to think globally (balancing things like crypto backdoors with terrorism threats), decentralize where possible, build in end-to-end encryption where only the end user and not the vendor holds the key, make sure there is government-free technology development, and modify and eliminate laws that are outdated and hinder Internet freedom.

If those provisions don't work, it will be up to the technology and security industries to build the next generation of Internet, she said.

"There's a possibility that these provisions won't work. ... What that means is that in the next 20 years, ... instead of the dream of Internet freedom becoming true, we're going to see it be sicker, and sicker, and sicker until it dies," Granick said. "If that’s true, then what we need to do in the next 20 years is, we need to get ready and we need to get ready to smash it apart and make something new and better."