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9 ways developers can rebuild trust on the Internet

Peter Wayner | July 23, 2015
Public keys, trusted hardware, block chains -- developers should use these tech tools to help secure the Internet for all

9 ways developers can rebuild trust on the Internet

The Internet is a pit of epistemological chaos. As Peter Steiner posited -- and millions of chuckles peer-reviewed -- in his famous New Yorker cartoon, there's no way to know if you're swapping packets with a dog or the bank that claims to safeguard your money. To make matters worse, Edward Snowden has revealed that the NSA may be squirreling away a copy of some or all of our packets, and given the ease with which it can be done, other countries and a number of rogue hacker groups may very well be following the NSA's lead.

Yet we keep dumping our data into the routers, blithely assuming it will all work out. When it doesn't, well, the trouble is manageable. Hackers may be rooting around in federal computers, stealing copies of your taxes, but until they start paying your taxes too, it probably won't make much difference. When someone stole my credit card to buy an iPad at Office Depot, the credit card company covered the loss. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security like this.

Though most of us have thus far gone unscathed by the Internet's chaos and lack of trust, that doesn't mean we should continue to throw caution to the wind. Not only will fraudsters grow bolder, but the deeper social costs can be staggering. After all, we all must shoulder the cost of fraud through higher prices that hide bigger transaction fees. The gradual erosion of trust hurts us all.

We may not be able to wave a wand and make the Internet perfect, but we can certainly add features to improve trust on the Internet. To that end, we offer the following nine ideas for bolstering a stronger sense of assurance that our data, privacy, and communications are secure. Fixing the Internet may be a lofty (and likely unattainable) goal, but if we each consider ways of adding security to our current projects, we'll slowly start making the Internet a more trustworthy place for all.

Add public keys to major services
Facebook works hard to make sure its users are real people who are using their real names. Given the scale of the endeavor and the nature of people, we can't assume that Facebook has been completely successful, but its long, hard push to build trust in the names on its users' accounts can help the Internet at large.

The best news of this year may be that Facebook is going to allow its users to distribute their PGP public key through Facebook's system. Anyone who wants to email a person via PGP will soon be able to go to Facebook, download the person's public key, and start a secure communication immediately.


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