Border Control
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by Josh Lee
2015 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
        California's The Toll Roads, operator of all of California's express lanes and toll-facilities loves to send me citations for my innocent mistakes, such as using the wrong lane to pass through a toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge or not activating my FasTrax pass when I'm on the 73 going south to San Diego. Even though I've now removed my front license plate, obscured my rear plate, and covered up the VIN on my dashboard, they somehow still find a way to identify me and mail me those ugly black and yellow citation envelopes.
         So why isn't the same possible for Internet traffic? Why is it so challenging to identify web traffic, specifically that sent by hackers such as those operating under the orders of North Korea? Or China or Russia or Ukraine or whichever foreign attack you want to post your finger at.
         We live in a world where identifying someone, anyone in the real world is now terrifyingly easy. We have facial recognition software that can take even the fuzziest photo and generate a specific list of features on a face and match them up to an identity. Facebook and iPhoto do this by default to make organizing your photos and identifying your friends easy and efficient. Police departments and news outlets are using the millions of people on social media as a resource to help identify suspects and criminals. ABC7 Eyewitness News, the ABC affiliate in my hometown of Los Angeles posts at least once a week asking for the public's help to identify suspects, find vehicles, etc.
Even when visual recognition fails, anyone can still be identified by their DNA. Humans are basically walking piles of DNA. You can change your clothes, dye your hair, manipulate your skin color, even undergo surgery to change your sex, but you can't change your DNA. DNA is mankind's irrefutable, unchangeable ID card.
        The same should be true of our online presence and the data that we generate. Did humans subconsciously create the Internet as a place where permanent identifiable identities don't exist because we feel resentful of how identifiable we are in the real world? Or were we just so accustomed to it being a given that everyone has an identity that we didn't think that we would have to actually have to create a similar type of structure in our digital reality?
        You might be thinking that, well, it seems like you need to have a pretty extensive base of knowledge, a big financial backing, and a sizable team to pull off such a covert operation, because no one person could actually do what Lizbeth Salander does in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (a very relevant representation of the technological world we live in).
         But consider this: teenagers and adults who have nothing better to do than lurk on online forums and blog sites and find other innocent users to harass are basically pulling off the same feat just on a much smaller scale. The teenage suicides of girls who were picked on for being overweight or sluts and the boys who faced torment for being gay or metrosexual were being pushed into the same corner as Sony was. The scary thing about online cyber attacks and threats is that it's infinitely more terrifying if you don't know from who it's originating. For example, a high school junior who acts slightly feminine would probably be a lot less intimidated if he knew that the harassment he was facing was coming from a scrawny freshman than a senior on the football team. If he was getting bullied in real life, he would know who it is. Online, the scrawny freshman could build up any facade of an identity he wanted and the metrosexual teenager would never know that the harasser he was facing down was nothing more than a freshman.
        The fear of the unknown is what makes the Internet, but more specifically, the attacks on Sony such a scary grey area. Even though we now have confirmation from our government that North Korea is behind these attacks, given that it is perhaps the most secretive countries on the planet we don't and likely will never know just what kind of army we're facing. The hacks could have been orchestrated by a team of ten programmers in a computer lab with one computer each, or it could have been the work of a hundred programmers with supercomputer power at their hands. North Korea's population may be starving to death but the elite have a known stash of cash at banks in Macau from which they live their luxurious lifestyles. Imagine the computer power they could buy.
        We don't know what they're capable of. Is this the extent of their cyber power or are they bluffing us? And, really, are we even in a position to call their bluff? Heck, we really only found out what our government was capable of earlier this year with all the invisible and undetected snooping that the US Government is doing on us and others around the world. And not to harp on it, but why wasn’t any of that massive traffic identified?
        There need to be sanctions and international laws put in place on the Internet and what everyone must legally conform to when it comes to self-identification. Can we encode a digital-DNA into ourselves and our transmissions the same way that human DNA is intertwined in the fibers of our being?
        And, once we’ve solved that problem, can we impose systems of border control the same way that we do at airports for international travel? No matter what country you’re entering, you’re always asked for your identification and other required documentation. You’re asked what the purpose of your visit is and how long you’ll be staying. We don’t let people with expired visas and passports enter our country, even if they’re completely harmless, because they don’t have the proper permissions. And yet, we let malicious traffic from North Korea enter freely without checking any identification or intent upon arrival. Border protection is how we catch human trafficking and drug trafficking when cartels route them through ports around the world. Yet North Korea can route its hacking through servers in France, South Korea, and China without anyone catching it?
        To be clear, I’m not advocating for a completely government-ruled Internet. In order for it to remain an Internet, we need to have the freedom to come and go as we please. But just like in the real world, there need to be clearer laws and more vigilant policing when it comes to illegal activity. We’re making progress with the shutdown of tycoons like Kim Dotcom and the shutting down of the Silk Road, but in the case of North Korea (as well as the United States National Security Administration snooping), the invisible and the unidentifiable, we have yet to figure out how to lift the cloak of invisibility.