I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.- Thomas Jefferson.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Anarchy on the Internet

By Vedran Vuk

Where would you feel safer checking your bank account statement at midnight – online or at an ATM on a city street corner? There’s always been an argument over privatizing security between limited government free market supporters and radical libertarians. But the answer to the opening question may put a point in the radical libertarian corner. After all, the internet has no government security and only private companies create protection software. On the other hand, the city corner is protected by the police department, yet most of us would probably prefer the safety of an online transaction over a late-night ATM visit.

The U.S. government is utterly powerless online, and so is every other government. Our government can’t do anything to Russian or Chinese hackers. Even if a government bureaucrat could track them down, they couldn’t arrest them. And neither Russia nor China can apprehend a home-grown American hacker.

Within our own borders, law enforcement futilely combats cyber crime. Identity theft goes largely unpunished. Only notorious hackers who cause millions in damages attract law enforcement tracking efforts. For all common purposes, citizens are basically on their own.

Despite this fact, we still use the internet every day. In fact, our comfort level with online transactions has grown rather than lessened. From online brokerage accounts to online banking, our trust increases – thanks to private companies. No doubt, the internet is full of problems. But, it’s still a clear example of private enterprise providing solutions and protective programs without the government.

Companies which produce security software face constant challenges from evolving viruses and vulnerabilities. In many ways, a security software programmer has greater obstacles and challenges than local law enforcement. Let’s run through a side-by-side comparison:

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Computer companies don’t have the luxury of knowing where the bad guys are located. Further, they’re dealing with highly intelligent criminals who create evolving threats. To make matters worse, the extreme financial damage from identity theft raises the stakes.

Depending on the statistics, identity theft ranges from 5 million to 15 million cases a year. But remember, not all cases involve computers. There’s plenty of old-fashioned identity theft caused by stolen wallets or information lifted from the trash. Also, we don’t know how many of these victims were utilizing updated security software. Nonetheless, it’s still an enormous number of cases. But, compare this to the 9.8 million property crimes which occurred in 2008 including motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and burglary. The police are helpless online, but offline their track record of protecting property isn’t spectacular either.

Further, the government is responsible for much of the identity theft indirectly. Think about your Social Security number. The government identifies us with a 9-digit number. And if a Social Security number gets in the wrong hands, a person’s life is basically screwed. We live in the 21st century but are identified by a pre-computer age system. With such an easily stolen form of identification created by the government, it’s little wonder that we have identity theft.

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