The end is nigh… and no­body cares

Truth by Dun­can Bell

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS - Dun­can bell

The World Wide Web: born 1991, died 2014. That’s a head­line you won’t have read else­where but you have to won­der why. Last year, we dis­cov­ered that var­i­ous se­cu­rity ser­vices might well have been merrily mon­i­tor­ing all our on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so that we can be safe and free. Then, in April, it turned out that thanks to some­thing dubbed “Heart­bleed”, on­line se­cu­rity as we thought we’d known it up to that point ba­si­cally didn’t work.

The pub­lic re­ac­tion? I wouldn’t say there was none, but it was on about the level of mild peeved-ness. But surely this is in­sane f**kery of the first or­der, which should leave ev­ery­one gib­ber­ing with rage?

It’s like dis­cov­er­ing your front door has ac­tu­ally not been lock­ing prop­erly when you closed it be­hind you ev­ery day, be­cause the people who made the door for­got to in­clude a lock. It’s like find­ing out your bank has been stor­ing your cash in a skip on a by­pass rather than, as you’d as­sumed, in a vault with a door on it made of metal the width of a shot-put­ter.

Heart­bleed wasn’t a virus. It wasn’t de­signed by cun­ning mas­ter-crims of the type sketched two-di­men­sion­ally in a par­tic­u­larly dull episode of El­e­men­tary. It was a fail­ing in SSL en­cryp­tion, a bug or ex­ploit. We know this be­cause the first we heard of it was when a fix was an­nounced.

Now, I’m sorry to keep spell­ing this out to those of you al­ready well aware, but what Heart­bleed meant was that ev­ery time you thought you were do­ing some­thing se­cure on­line – buy­ing teacups from Ama­zon or com­mu­ni­cat­ing with your Al-Qaeda han­dlers over in­stant mes­sager – you quite pos­si­bly weren’t se­cure. Pass­words, keys and ses­sion cook­ies were all up for grabs.

This is cat­a­strophic. But did we care? Nope. Have you changed all your pass­words since Heart­bleed was re­vealed? Nope. Have I changed mine? Of course not. Can’t be both­ered, mate. Af­ter all, there’s been no re­port of a sud­den in­crease in on­line crime off the back of the Heart­bleed rev­e­la­tions, has there?

As hu­mans, we tend to re­act to what we can see more than what we’re told. We stop drink­ing when the doc­tor ex­plains he’ll be re­mov­ing our liver shortly, not when killjoys tell us drink­ing Jäger­bombs for break­fast is not a good life­style choice.

That anal­ogy leads me to a good way to think of the web: it’s a drug. We ig­nore any­thing ruinously bad about it be­cause we love how it makes us feel so very, very much. But that doesn’t mean we won’t one day wake up to find our money’s all gone and we’ve will­ingly given away all our dark­est se­crets, just for one more fix.

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