Future of the Internet: Global Network or National Segments?

More and more people have been predicting in recent years that the internet as a global network as we know it may disappear in the near future or undergo radical change. At least this is where the actions by both government and non-government actors are pointing, from software developers, communications operators and cyber security companies to hackers and groups of hackers. Valentin Makarov, president of Russoft non-commercial partnership and head of the SafeNet working group of the National Technology Initiative, shared his perspective on the threats and future of the internet on the sidelines of Valdai Club’s regional conference in Singapore.

Steps by governments in various countries to restrict internet use are grounded in national security concerns, Makarov believes. The fact that a single state, the US, has historically dominated the online world, is a matter of great concern.

“The internet was invented, developed and financed by the United States. It was naturally aimed at establishing a global US monopoly in the information sphere. They have achieved their objective: everyone uses the internet, and all information available online can be used in the interests of the United States, and so can the internet infrastructure. Internet governance institutions are all located in the US. It has to be noted that this does not diminish in any way the role of the internet in establishing a new technology paradigm across the world,” Valentin Makarov said in an interview with valdaiclub.com.

Many countries have voiced misgivings over the ability of the US to use the internet in its interests. This concern found its way into Russia’s information security doctrine adopted in early December. Under the document, the current distribution of powers and resources needed to ensure safe and sustainable operation of the internet does not provide for fair, trust-based internet governance.

According to Makarov, one of the threats that worried governments the most is that big troves of personal data that are being stored outside the jurisdiction of the countries in which the people who provided the data reside.

“This is a real danger, and many governments are seeking to protect themselves by creating legal barriers to prevent personal data from leaving the country. These data not only contain personal information, but also provide an important resource for conducting various kinds of research on healthcare, migration, income levels, and so on. Various parameters can be used to assess the state of the society and its development trends, and ultimately influence it. This is becoming a factor of global significance since these data can be used for offensive purposes, to influence public opinion, for example. The accumulation of Big Data radically changes the world,” he explained.

However, not only foreign governments, but also various third parties may use personal user data, which in many cases poses in even bigger threat. “States can monitor their population as part of efforts to ensure security and order within their borders, while third parties with similar technical capabilities would be able to spy on specific internet users and influence them without any restrictions or authority. This is much worse compared to the state,” Makarov said.

He went on to say that a possible solution to enhance internet user security would be to create so-called security cocoons, which are tools for handling online communications on behalf and at the instruction of the user, while ensuring professional-grade security from human errors and targeted third party actions. “These tools enable people to interact with the online world while preserving their privacy. Since the technology already exists, this solves the issue, at least to some extent. But if we say that our goal is to protect people not only from third parties, but also from the state, the state will not understand it. However, the state is less dangerous than these third parties whom we don’t know and who sell our data to somebody else,” he argued.

Speaking about internet development trends in the years to come, Makarov emphasized the growing gap between the internet in its current forum (which can be also called the social internet), and the so-called industrial internet. “The internet we are talking about has restrictions. This is the so-called social internet. It was created to facilitate human communications. When the internet is used to manage critical infrastructure, the very fact of possible human interference in this infrastructure presents the highest risk. This means that critical infrastructure systems have to move away from the social internet model. Leading SafeNet experts believe that the future in managing cyber-physical systems lies beyond the social internet as we know it. It will be called the industrial internet and consist of internal networks inaccessible to humans. This will eliminate many risks and be a game changer as far as security is concerned.”

“If internet governance bodies remain within the jurisdiction of the US, we need to agree on changes to strengthen the role of other states. Otherwise, other countries will seek to develop their own segments so as to mitigate risks that may arise from the US using its leading position in internet governance to its advantage. In any case, this will not affect the industrial internet that will offer separate rules and networks for present and future cyber-physical systems,” Valentin Makarov concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.