On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog! Also, nobody could know for sure that you’re NOT a dog.

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog!.jpg

By Marco Ciappelli, host of The Cyber Society on ITSPmagazine

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Welcome to the intersection of IT security and society, welcome to ITSPmagazine.

This is Marco Ciappelli, and you are about to listen to a new episode of The Cyber Society podcast series.

In this episode, we are going to talk about dogs on the Internet and how difficult it is to distinguish them from humans. We are talking about dogs pretending to be humans, and being so good at it that no one can tell.

This is a serious problem, and we all need to be aware of it.

This one, actually, was a problem even back in the early 90s when we used to surf the World Wide Web with Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. When to make a modem work you needed an electronic engineering degree or a friend with one, and when you had to tell your parents, brothers, and sisters, that they couldn’t make a phone call because you were using the line for way better things.

It was exactly July 5, 1993, when a cartoon designed by Peter Steiner was published in The New Yorker. It portrayed a dog using a computer - probably running window 3.1 - telling another dog these exact words "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog!". I believe the dog was smiling inside. 

In those days we thought, and we were mostly right, that back then the condition of being anonymous was one of the intrinsic attributes of being an Internet user. That dog was all of us; exploring the secrets of a fascinating new cyber world without anyone knowing who you were unless you wanted to be known.

Now, let’s fast forward a quarter of a century and let’s consider how much things have changed since that cartoon. Damn, they sure have - a lot.

Back then we had the "impersonal Internet," and now we have the "personal - way too personal - one." Google, Amazon, Facebook and pretty much all the large tech corporations out there do know who you are, what are your favorite brands, your habits and I might dare to say that very soon, thanks to artificial intelligence, they will know you even better than yourself. There are AI algorithms out there that are already starting to predict depression, sexual orientation, and of course what you want/need to buy next, but way, way, before you know that yourself. This will be a topic for some other bedtime stories. 

So, as you have probably figured out by now, things have changed quite a bit since that day in 1993. They have changed so much that on on February 23, 2015, a cartoon by Kaamran Hafeez, published, in The New Yorker, features a similar pair of dogs watching their owner sitting at a computer, with one asking the other: "Remember when, on the Internet, nobody knew who you were?"

And this should sum things up quite nicely. 

Between Social Media, smartphones, wearables, Internet of Things, the 24/7 harvesting of your personal data and of course all those breaches where every piece of private information goes for sale on the Dark Web, we are at a point where we cannot hide anymore. Privacy and anonymity are just meaningless words. 

The commercial Internet changed the game from impersonal to personal, big corporations make money, and the consumer gets the convenience.

But is this convenience worth that much? 

Maybe we should start thinking about it.

This rambling was inspired and brought to you by The Cyber Society podcast conversation you are about to hear. 

My guest is Manu Fontaine. He is the founder of a PUBLIC BENEFIT COMPANY called HushMesh, and he is going to tell us the story and the philosophy behind his ideas.

The company mission is to fix a few problems: identity, authentication, trust, and privacy. These are societal issues, and their solution must be people-centric and people-driven. Also, spoiler alert, it has to bring back some physical solution to a set of digital problems.

Technology only thinking has somehow created these problems. Our personal information is scattered all over the internet. Each company, from the small business to the large corporation has our Personal Identifier Data, and each database is a target. The attack surface is huge, and there is not a common strategy to handle it. One breach after another and yet another handful piece of your identity and your soul ends up in the wrong hands.

You see, when “nobody knows you’re a dog,” it also means that nobody could know for sure that you’re NOT a dog.

The game has changed a lot since 1993 and that cartoons quote can now be interpreted in a completely different way.

In other words, the Internet itself does not have any built-in way for us to certify our real-world identity to others, in a manner that can be easily verified and trusted by them. Therefore identity fraud and identity theft become way too easy. Think about how many organizations and companies have your Social Security Number. How can that simple number be what identify you when you are online? That simple string of numbers was never meant to be used that way. Then again, passwords were not invented for the computers either. But this is a story for another chronicle. 

I believe this conversation will help everyone to understand some of our Internet problems a bit better, and the cyber society, we are already living in, to become a bit less mysterious and a bit less scary. It will empower us to be less vulnerable and a bit more paranoid. That is until the cybersecurity professionals find a way to make it a lot easier for everyone. No pressure. 

Once again. Please remember what Sir Arthur C. Clarke said:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But only to those who don't understand it.

Let’s listen….

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog!
Also, nobody could know for sure that you’re NOT a dog.