The United Nations' International Telecommunications Union has taken the unprecedented step of adopting a standard for the Internet that would essentially permit eavesdropping on a global basis.
According to a just-published piece on the RT.com web site, ITU members decided to adopt a standard, known as Y.2770, which would permit the inspection of Internet traffic. This inspection of emails and message content would be the physical world equivalent of opening any piece of mail and reading what is inside. The only defense against this is encryption.
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This is not just about reading emails. Phone calls using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) digitizes the conversation and sends it in the same way emails travel - through a series of packets. The ITU standard would mean that VoIP phone calls sent, received or that are routed through that country's pipes would be subject to the same monitoring!
The decision is expected to be widely opposed, both as a stunning power grab and overreach into privately-owned networks. Internet pioneers Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee have already voiced their opposition to the ITU's intentions.
But the ITU's move also carries the additional risk of unleashing a massive backlash by hackers. The hacktivist group Anonymous has already announced it is planning to launch a cyberattack this weekend against the ITU's website, according to a report today.
Here's the background:
The World Conference on International Telecommunications is taking place in Dubai, Dec. 3-14, to consider updating the only existing global treaty on telecommunications. This treaty was established to facilitate the international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services.
The Telecommunication Development Bureau (TDB) and entity under the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) created a report called "Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2012: Smart Regulation for a Broadband World." There is a summary report available here that is well worth reading.
A recently formulated document that was developed in obscurity was posted on the ITU website, according to reports, including one by The News Limited Network in Australia.
It appears that this document is in response to the growing number of threats countries face in cyber space. It is believed that if adopted the proposal would allow government restriction on, or the blocking of, information posted on the Internet. That wouldn't be a new practice: a study by the Open Net Initiative, estimates more than 620 million Internet users worldwide are already subject to systematic online content filtering and that doesn't include the blocking of content.
In addition, the ITU proposal would establish a global internet communications monitoring entity.
It's worth noting that the U.S. Congress passed a resolution yesterday (Dec. 5) calling on the U.S. government to oppose the United Nations' control of the Internet, according to a report from The Hill.
The ITU's secretary general, Dr. Hamadoun I. Toure (pictured above), has dismissed critics who have called the proposed model invasive.
There are numerous interpretations of the posted document and they vary greatly. One statement refers to a call for the 193 UN member countries to increase their regulatory control over the Internet and address the threats to cyber security.
But here is an interesting question: According the CIA Factbook, there are 231 countries now connected to the Internet. So what about the 38 countries not part of the UN?
This has spurred a very hot discussion about those who wish to exert control over content on the Internet. While there is a clear need to aggressively address cyber threat, this is NOT the way!
This action will undoubtedly draw protests with increased in intensity. History has shown that the hacktivists group turned virtual-state known as Anonymous has time and time again publically proclaimed their support for a free and open Internet! Their recent string of cyber protests with aggressive actions, clearly indicate their intentions and motivations to influence government positions and actions on key issues like this.
Given the United Nation / ITU actions moving toward putting the controls discussed above in place and assumption the power that comes with content controls, it is almost a certainty that Anonymous will respond as well as many others. The hackers collective released an initial warning against the ITU on YouTube last week, according to a Computerworld report.
One thing that is not in question is their ability to create a massive amount of distributed denial of service (DDoS) traffic; nor is their ability to hack into systems. Both have been demonstrated over and over again. It is key to keep in mind their tag line "We Are Legion... We Are Anonymous... We Do Not Forget... We Do Not Forgive... Expect Us..."
Kevin G. Coleman is a long-time security technology executive. He is a senior fellow with the Technolytics Institute, the former chief strategist at Netscape and writes periodically for AOL Government on the topic of cyber intelligence.