Issues and Vulnerabilities Of The Centralized Internet
I've been thinking about writing and publishing this post for a couple of years already.
We live in disturbing times, and the internet now is not the same as it was 10-15 years ago. At least that's how I feel about it. I'll explain in this post.
I've gathered all of the thoughts I had plus research notes on issues and vulnerabilities of the centralized internet, including privacy, censorship, and performance issues.
Dangers of the Centralized Internet
I thought I'd describe and list the most common dangers. Instead, I decided to share this little collection of facts related to centralized internet:
- In 2011, during the Egyptian Revolution, the Egyptian government ordered ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to turn off the Domain Name System (DNS) and alter the Border Gateway Protocol of their servers. According to one analysis, 88% of Egyptian Internet has called of the global network as a result.
- The UK government has similar authority and potentially can shut down their network.
- There is a high probability that the US authorities are capable of shutting down the most popular part of the internet by ordering such corporations as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google to turn off their servers.
- In its role as an ISP, Pakistan Telecom attempted to censor YouTube by blocking the users that were trying to reach it. Their attempt failed, but still, they were close to achieving what they wanted.
- Myanmar blocked social media and censored the internet during the military coup so that no information goes out of the country.
- Cuba censored the Internet amid massive protests against the government.
- Numerous sites that use AWS servers go down from time to time, showing a highly centralized internet vulnerability.
- Just one outage in Google disrupted nearly every service they offer across the US and EU, including Gmail and Google Docs.
- Crashed numerous servers at an Amazon data center triggered rolling outages for services ranging from Slack Quora.
A little bit of history
Shortly, the most common version of the internet we're using on daily basis is the centralized internet. This technology had a different purpose slightly before becoming a commodity, and almost everyone could access and browse simple websites and forums.
ARPANET is a distributed military network designed to survive the war and the predecessor to the centralized internet we're using now. It featured technologies like the TCP/IP protocol that we're using now.
However, the most useful feature was somehow lost, and the network switched from peer to peer (without the centralized point of failure) to client/server.
In fact, just a few companies worldwide monopolized and centralized the server part.
A centralized point can be a server through which all data in a network must pass through before distribution to various computers and devices.
As we know it now, the internet consists of a network of computer networks or autonomous systems (not just a network of computers).
The Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is the fundamental protocol that these systems use to transmit a packet on the internet further.
BGP controls who can communicate with whom. What host on the internet can your autonomous system send a packet to.
And that's one of the problems with the current version of the internet. It could go down any minute if someone who has a master switch decided to do so. Meaning sites, blogs, services won't work, some data can be lost, communications wouldn't be possible.
I'm 99% sure that there is no single master switch that can disrupt our lives in such a way, but something else can create a similar effect.
Monopolization of services, web traffic, and markets
Some popular sites based on their unique visitors and total traffic are Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo.
One of the problems with this is whoever controls these completely centralized platforms has full control over network data and users. And these companies are huuuge.
One common thing of the centralized systems is that one crucial failure can bring down the whole platform and its users. A single point of failure (SPOF) is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working.
Because of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) failure, thousands of websites had experienced downtime. This outage was due to simple human error in Amazon’s cloud infrastructure.
It proves the major flaw behind the centralization of the Internet.
Two decades ago, people read the news over the Internet directly, visiting the websites and blogs of their choice.
Presently, According to numerous studies and reports, most people use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and similar platforms (apps), and by default, they direct what content they should read and watch. This is the most common use case.
It's easy to sign up and start using monopolized products and services, but usually, it's already too late when users feel any adverse effects.
The Problem with Censorship
The idea that someone decides what you can and can't watch and read is a violation of basic human rights.
It's quite common that criteria for "dangerous" or "misinformation" content chosen by the government or monopolist corporations are primarily based on their interests.
Blocking sites and censoring content violates not only basic human rights but also damages economies.
The same goes for publishing content. Readers and watchers might not want to see a specific type or a category of content, but that should be up to them. That's a simple choice.
Moreover, censoring a certain type of content and approving specific views is a form of misinformation by itself.
The most significant data breach at Equifax in 2017 exposed the security risks associated with customer details stored in one location. Hackers had stolen the personal information of 143 million U.S consumers, which includes social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases, drivers’ license numbers.
Know Your Customer (KYC)
How do you know that you stay protected when you need to submit your ID or other personal documents to some websites and apps, for example, banking and finance apps.
Many sites and apps are blatantly harvesting data from users and, in some cases, even from non-users. Things like cookies, sign-up information, behavior trackers are widespread, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Facebook had massive leaks. I believe the recent one affected 500 million profiles.
Microsoft confirmed a data leak that exposed 250 million customer support records.
Around 14 million Amazon and eBay accounts were leaked to one of the hacking websites.
In December 2018. video messaging service Dubsmash was hacked. 162 million email addresses, passwords, and other personal data were on sale in the dark web market.
In October 2013, Adobe reported that hackers had stolen around 3 million customer credit card records and login data.
You can find stories about infrastructure hacks that not only leak millions of accounts from websites but actually affect our physical world. Cyberattacks can cause power grid issues like city blackouts, water management, and more.
One server or a data center can be a single point of failure. Which means it makes the hacking task easier in general.
The whole area, city, and perhaps a country can lose communication tools and information exchange tools just because almost everything runs from one data center or a big and is used by most of the people platform hosted on a centralized server.
One of the solutions is diversification of your data exchange and tools you use on a daily basis.
Build your own platform or use a self-hosted solution.
Host your own content, ideally, on a private server.
It gives you complete control over the content distribution, server work, and capabilities,
No censorship or community guidelines. You can create your own rules and change them anytime. Or you can even give full freedom of content consumption and communications. It's up to you.
Nobody can ever shut you down. The worst-case scenario is changing your domain name or hosting provider.
There are simple protocols that can be used against centralization:
- Peer to peer
Educate people about centralized and monopolized internet issues and alternatives. The more people know, the better it is for decentralized networks.
Use decentralized protocols and services.
Already-existing Decentralized alternatives
- Peepeth - Twitter alternative running on decentralized Ethereum blockchain;
- Filecoin - decentralized file storage;
- DTube - decentralized Youtube alternative;
- Aether - decentralized Reddit alternative;
- Lino - decentralized content platform;
- Sphere - decentralized social network.
I think that the decentralized internet is the only viable alternative with many freedoms and opportunities.
Another bulletproof solution is hosting your portfolio and content independently from monopolist companies, big data centers, and centralized platforms.
Building your own platform, self-hosting it securely is the way to go.
This post is more like an index and general thoughts, and I'm going to push more content on this topic soon, linking everything together.
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