More On Egypt And The Internet


A longtime TPM reader who is in the know checks in on Egypt, counter-Twitter operations, and the technical aspects of making the Internet less susceptible to government coercion:

As you know, PKI [Public Key Infrastructure] is my field, I have played a significant role in creating the system that secures Web sites. I am not speaking for my employer here though.

We need to be careful not to leap to conclusions. At this point we do not have proof that Egypt actually did compromise a CA certificate. In fact we have very little firm evidence coming from Egypt at all because the Internet is offline.

The original PKI design for the Internet was not designed to withstand government coercion. There were good reasons for this approach in 1995, the objective was to secure E-commerce and make Internet commerce possible. Attempting to make the system secure against every possible risk would have led to no system at all.

That said, it has been clear that we need to address this vulnerability for some time and there are efforts underway to that end. Efforts whose prospects of success will probably not be helped by describing them in detail in a thread likely to be read by oppressive regimes looking for ideas.

Looking to the role of Twitter and Facebook in the current unrest, the most important message that Internet users in Egypt have received from their government through the Internet is that it is scared and panicked. A government that has told its people that is scared of them is not likely to last very long. Blocking the Internet may be seen in retrospect as the Ceausescu moment for the regime.

Twitter and Facebook can bring people together, but once they connect they have the opportunity to establish other methods of contact. Mubarak was safe while people were sitting on their butts twittering. He is much less safe now he has taken away Twitter and forced them to come out into the streets.

In the Iranian demonstrations, Twitter played an important role but it was a supporting one. The most important driver was the BBC World Service broadcasting pictures and videos of government thugs murdering protestors via satellite. It is not just the Internet that is a technology of freedom here, it is every laptop, cell phone and USB memory stick that can carry the information across a border.

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