My first brush with trouble from using the Internet came in the winter of 1995. I was a 15 year old student and, arriving home from school, found my mother and father brandishing an official-looking letter, barely able to contain their shock. My father bellowed “You’d better have a good explanation for this!” as I took the many pages in trembling hands and scanned the contents.
I was in serious trouble. It seemed that my activities on the Internet had finally caught up with me – the hours spent downloading software from ratio FTP sites and using remote access tools to poke around in systems was about to cost me dear. A phone bill for £120 – I had never thought it possible, and my parents all but threw my beloved Pentium out of the door.
Aside from astronomical phone bills, I didn’t respect (or care about) the consequences of my Internet activities – that is, until I started talking to girls in chatrooms. From that point on, things started to get real for me – one girl from Chicago not only would hide in the electronic bushes around my online status, but would call me on the phone if I didn’t appear online; to my parents, the phone ringing at 2am was another reason to hate the Internet.
Even so – what was there to fear about the Internet? A few crazy phone calls and the odd-oversized bill was to be expected; it was otherwise a teenage technophile’s paradise of freedom and plenty. It wasn’t serious – it was just electronic.
Not everyone would agree with me. Between February 2001 and 2002, Gary McKinnon (or Solo to use his online name), a systems admin with a healthy interest in UFOs, was accused of accessing computers and networks belonging to NASA, DoD, and the US Navy in search of some good alien photos. An American prosecutor has called his activities “the biggest military computer hack of all time”. In l337 terms, this is advertising you cannot pay for. Some reports suggest that he actually found some evidence of UFOs, which is probably why the Americans are truly pissed-off.
During his free-run through the American military systems, Sept 11th happened and he was reclassified from conspiracy theorist to conspiracy terrorist, and is now waiting extradition. He is facing 70 years in jail and fines of $2 million. His method of hacking? “I found out that the US military use Windows. And having realised this, I assumed it would probably be an easy hack if they hadn’t secured it properly.” I can only deduce that Mr McKinnon is a hardcore Linux user from that kind of blanket assumption. Anyway, my main point with military and sensitive systems is this; why do these networks need to be connected to the Internet anyway? Aside from connecting sites together (which could be done with dedicated fibre lines, surely?), supplying a few office chimps with access to the Internet isn’t as important as, say, keeping a physical separation between mad teenage hackers and pictures of aliens.
The Internet became serious as soon as the first person made a single dollar from it. Then, corporate assholes took over the Internet, promoted it, started forcing governments to control it, and therefore promoted its status from electronic playground to essential financial vehicle. Want an example? Go into the street and call someone a retard. Not much will happen. Now go online and tweet some abuse to someone. Madness ensues. People are, at heart, lazy bastards, and the Internet is a lazy-enabler. So if you see someone take the piss out of an old lady in the street, you might interject, but that means walking over there, thinking of something to say, maybe even a physical bout of fisticuffs – too much effort, right? However, if you witness someone “cyber-bullying” someone else online, you can make your indignation felt in a couple of keypresses and cause a right royal stink, AND you don’t have to look anyone in the eye as you’re doing it.
I remember giving a shit between having a 28.8kbps and having a 33.6bps modem, so I’ve been online from the beginning of the commercialisation of the ‘net. I don’t like what it’s become, simply because it’s spawned a specific kind of fringe IT person. As an IT professional, I see the desperate look in people’s eyes as they inform/plead me to give them access to Facebook through our corporate systems, as if Facebook was important. I hear the utter nonsense that comes out of people when they tell me that the “server” isn’t working because they can’t get on the ‘net. I have to waste my time listening to people say things like “Apple stuff is great because it lets you make music and alter photos. Windows doesn’t do that.” And my blood runs cold when I hear ISP throttling speeds or denying access to sites because of SOPA-type activities.
In short, I want my Internet back.