Is it time for an all-new Internet in the name of cybersecurity?
Believing that the existing Internet will never be secure enough to adequately protect the nation’s critical infrastructure and most important digital assets, a top Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official is advocating the development of an entirely new networking protocol and a separate “secure Internet” for use by utility providers, security agencies and others.
FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry recently outlined his proposal in a far-reaching speech to attendees of an international security conference. The cornerstone of Henry’s proposal is to create an Internet networking system where users would be unable to mask or hide their identity. The network would also constantly track and log the activities of each user while online. Henry believes this system of complete transparency would make it virtually impossible to engage in a cyber attack without detection and intervention before serious damage could be done.
According to Henry, this is in contrast to the current Internet as the general public understands it today. Increasingly complex routing protocols, use of proxy servers and the exponential growth of mobile Internet-connected devices makes it easy to access the existing Internet with relative anonymity. In this environment, hackers are becoming more and more adept at surreptitiously accessing sensitive systems for the purpose of data theft or malicious attack.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) supports Henry’s concerns. In its report, the GAO says cyber attacks against 24 federal agencies have increased 650% in the past five years. According to the GAO, the exponential growth in the frequency of attacks is due to both an increase in the number of capable attackers and the government’s inability to plug security holes fast enough to stay ahead of ever more intelligent cyber criminals.
By trading online privacy for enhanced security, Henry believes a select number of users could store and secure important systems and data with complete confidence. This new networking system would not require an entirely separate hardware infrastructure, he says. Instead, the separate network could be built alongside the traditional Internet, provided unidentified users could be completely sequestered from the new system.
Henry is not the only FBI official espousing the benefits of an alternate, secure Internet. Steven Chabinsky, the FBI Cyber Division’s deputy assistant director, advocated a similar Internet strategy during a recent briefing. It’s not known how long it would take to implement either official’s plan, how feasible the project would be or how much it would cost, but it seems clear that the nation’s top cybersecurity leaders are rapidly losing faith in the long-term security of existing digital networks in favor of new, revolutionary alternatives.