Monday, December 3, 2012

The business of Internet, Government and society

In a span of about 15 years or so, internet and wireless communication technologies have become globally ubiquitous and pervasive. And like other utilities - access to electricity, water and telephones - people in western societies have taken access to internet and wireless for granted. Even in developing countries where access to basic utilities is spotty at best, wireless and internet technologies are becoming more pervasive largely due to a combination of commercialization and a laissez faire attitude of governments.

Most consumers have come to expect that breakdown in “service,” even for a short span of time can only be due to a major force majeure - hurricane Sandy for example – nothing less

While many governments have taken a laissez faire attitude towards developing infrastructure for internet and wireless communication, they are not exactly being hands off. Government policy planners and bureaucrats, just like their counterpart business leaders and executives have come to realize the significance of “controlling” access to the infrastructures and access to these technologies.

Internet and wireless infrastructure is increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset that can impact National security. Shutting or disrupting access to wireless and internet in essence also shuts down
  • Commerce: Businesses and international commerce increasingly relies on pervasive internet technologies and access to wireless communication. Rather than develop their private LAN, WAN, MAN and area networks, corporations are more than eager to ride on top of public internet infrastructure. Public internet infrastructure is thought to be inherently more reliable since the points of failure are widely dissipated. It is also much cheaper to use than to develop private infrastructure. 
  • Communication: According to U.N. Telecom Agency report, the world has about 6 Billion cell phone subscribers. A mind boggling number when you consider the population of about 7 billion people
  • Entertainment: Entertainment, streaming movies, videos, games, music, social media etc etc all depend on pervasiveness of internet and wireless technologies. A disruption to either backbone can shut down the sources of entertainment.
Till recently, the primary risk to commerce on public internet networks was the threat to Network neutrality. However, recent incidents are making Digirati and corporate strategists reflect on broader risk to businesses that are increasingly dependent on public internet and wireless infrastructure for global commerce
  • Government’s shutting down access to internet: Censorship on the internet is just tip of the iceberg. The risk to businesses is a complete shutdown of access to the internet in a country or region! Just Last week, Syrian government briefly  managed to return its citizen to the digital dark ages. One can be certain that other governments are assessing their capabilities in this regard. (Ref Forbes article : These Are The 61 Countries Most Vulnerable To An Internet Shutdown)
  • Governments are increasingly relying on cyber-warfare as a powerful tool in their arsenals “in June 2009, someone had silently unleashed a sophisticated and destructive digital worm that had been slithering its way through computers in Iran with just one aim — to sabotage the country’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. (ref Wired article: Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History)
Business strategists and corporate policy makers are only starting to assess all the dimensions of the risk of leveraging public internet and wireless infrastructures. However, there a more prosaic way of looking at the risks: Much as we liked to think otherwise, risks inherent to “traditional infrastructures” (supply of water, electricity etc) apply to next generation infrastructures too. If we take this argument, traditional risk mitigation strategies should be applicable to technology infrastructure management too?