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Artificial intelligence technologies have the potential to upend the longstanding advantage that attack has over defense on the Internet. This has to do with the relative strengths and weaknesses of people and computers, how those all interplay in Internet security, and where AI technologies might change things.
You can divide Internet security tasks into two sets: Traditionally, computers excel at speed, scale, and scope. They can launch attacks in milliseconds and infect millions of computers. They can scan computer code to look for particular kinds of vulnerabilities, and data packets to identify particular kinds of attacks. Humans, conversely, excel at thinking and reasoning. They can find new sorts of vulnerabilities in systems.
Humans are creative and adaptive, and can understand context. Computers — so far, at least — are bad at what humans do well. They can behave irrationally because of those things.
Humans are slow, and get bored at repetitive tasks. They use cognitive shortcuts, and can only keep a few data points in their head at a time. They can also behave irrationally because of those things. AI will allow computers to take over Internet security tasks from humans, and then do them faster and at scale. Here are possible AI capabilities:. Both attack and defense will benefit from AI technologies, but I believe that AI has the capability to tip the scales more toward defense. There will be better offensive and defensive AI techniques.
Present-day attacks pit the relative advantages of computers and humans against the relative weaknesses of computers and humans. Computers moving into what are traditionally human areas will rebalance that equation. Roy Amara famously said that we overestimate the short-term effects of new technologies, but underestimate their long-term effects. For Internet security, that will change everything. Everything online is hackable.
If information is on a computer connected to the Internet, it is vulnerable. The difference between the two is complex, and filled with defensive technologies, security best practices, consumer awareness, the motivation and skill of the hacker and the desirability of the data. And here, again, there are complications. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Google uses to protect our highly intimate Web search data or our personal e-mails.
We have no idea what sorts of security measures Facebook uses to protect our posts and conversations. We have a feeling that these big companies do better than smaller ones. Even worse, credit bureaus and data brokers like Equifax collect your personal information without your knowledge or consent.
So while it might be possible for companies to do a better job of protecting our data, you as a consumer are in no position to demand such protection. Government policy is the missing ingredient. We need standards and a method for enforcement. We need liabilities and the ability to sue companies that poorly secure our data.
Government policy is how we change that. For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section , domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.
Section was initially passed in , as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of As the title of that law says, it was billed as a way for the NSA to spy on non-Americans located outside the United States.
It was supposed to be an efficiency and cost-saving measure: Section allowed it to tap those cables from inside the United States, where it was easier. Other law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask the NSA to search those communications, give their contents to the FBI and other agencies and then lie about their origins in court. Weakening that wall is incredibly dangerous, and the NSA should never have been given this authority in the first place. Arguably, it never was.
The NSA had been doing this type of surveillance illegally for years, something that was first made public in Section was secretly used as a way to paper over that illegal collection, but nothing in the text of the later amendment gives the NSA this authority. Section was passed under George W. Bush in , reauthorized under Barack Obama in , and now reauthorized again under Trump. In all three cases, congressional support was bipartisan. It has survived the revelations by Snowden that it was being used far more extensively than Congress or the public believed, and numerous public reports of violations of the law.
So what do we do? There are, it turns out, reasonable modifications that target surveillance more generally, and not in terms of any particular statutory authority. We need to look at US surveillance law more generally. First, we need to strengthen the minimization procedures to limit incidental collection. The intelligence community needs much stronger restrictions on which American communications channels it can access without a court order, and rules that require they delete the data if they inadvertently collect it.
Second, we need to limit how other law enforcement agencies can use incidentally collected information. Today, those agencies can query a database of incidental collection on Americans. The NSA can legally pass information to those other agencies. This has to stop. Data collected by the NSA under its foreign surveillance authority should not be used as a vehicle for domestic surveillance.
The most recent reauthorization modified this lightly, forcing the FBI to obtain a court order when querying the data for a criminal investigation. There are still exceptions and loopholes, though. It can reconstruct the evidence in some other manner once it knows about it, and then pretend it learned of it that way. This right to lie to the judge and the defense is corrosive to liberty, and it must end.
Pressure to reform the NSA will probably first come from Europe. Further pressure will come from the increased surveillance coming from the Internet of Things. When your home, car, and body are awash in sensors, privacy from both governments and corporations will become increasingly important. Although there have been many lawsuits challenging the legality of what the NSA is doing and the constitutionality of the program, no court has ever ruled on those questions.
If any of the lawsuits can get past that, things might change dramatically. Meanwhile, much of this is the responsibility of the tech sector. This problem exists primarily because Internet companies collect and retain so much personal data and allow it to be sent across the network with minimal security.
Since the government has abdicated its responsibility to protect our privacy and security, these companies need to step up: Encrypt what has to be saved.
Well-designed Internet services will safeguard users, regardless of government surveillance authority. This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post. In this short essay, I make a few simple assumptions that bear mentioning at the outset. First, I assume that governments have good and legitimate reasons for getting access to personal data.
These include things like controlling crime, fighting terrorism, and regulating territorial borders. Second, I assume that people have a right to expect privacy in their personal data. Therefore, policymakers should seek to satisfy both law enforcement and privacy concerns without unduly burdening one or the other.
Of course, much of the debate over government access to data is about how to respect both of these assumptions.
Different actors will make different trade-offs. My aim in this short essay is merely to show that regardless of where one draws this line — whether one is more concerned with ensuring privacy of personal information or ensuring that the government has access to crucial evidence — it would be shortsighted and counterproductive to draw that line with regard to one particular privacy technique and without regard to possible substitutes.
The first part of the paper briefly characterizes the encryption debate two ways: The second part summarizes several avenues available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies seeking access to data. The third part outlines the alternative avenues available to privacy-seekers. The availability of substitutes is relevant to the regulators but also to the regulated.
If the encryption debate is one tool in a game of cat and mouse, the cat has other tools at his disposal to catch the mouse — and the mouse has other tools to evade the cat. The fourth part offers some initial thoughts on implications for the privacy debate. This week brought new public evidence about Russian interference in the election.
Certainly, there are ways to disrupt voting by interfering with the voter registration process or voter rolls. But there was no indication on Election Day that people found their names removed from the system, or their address changed, or anything else that would have had an effect — anywhere in the country, let alone in the eight states where VR Systems is deployed.
And 12 days before the election with early voting already well underway in many jurisdictions seems far too late to start an operation like that. That is why these attacks feel exploratory to me, rather than part of an operational attack.
The Russians were seeing how far they could get, and keeping those accesses in their pocket for potential future use. Presumably, this document was intended for the Justice Department, including the FBI, which would be the proper agency to continue looking into these hacks. The document was, allegedly, sent to the Intercept anonymously.
The speed with which the government identified her serves as a caution to anyone wanting to leak official US secrets. The Intercept sent a scan of the document to another source during its reporting.