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The end of net neutrality and the beginning of a terribly insecure web

For now, irate citizens and web users can try to reinstate net neutrality by communicating with local and federal representatives and arming their own devices in this post–net neutral world.

Net Neutrality

One of the most significant tech setbacks of 2018 – and one of the biggest widespread failures of the Trump Administration – is the end of net neutrality. In February, the Federal Communications Commission headed by chair Ajit Pai voted to repeal the longstanding edict that all online traffic is created equal. A new era of the internet began on April 23, and web users are likely to see big changes to the speed and quality of their favorite sites. However, one concern remains uncertain: How will net non-neutrality affect internet security?

First, What Was Net Neutrality, and Why is it Gone?

Net neutrality is a simple concept that internet service providers (ISPs) should enable equal access to all web content and applications without facilitating or obstructing access to websites or products based on their source. Though the term for this principle is new, the applications of it date back to the Communications Act of 1934, which states that services such as telephone or telegrams are public utilities that cannot show preferential treatment to certain users.

Though the internet is often used for communication, it isn’t covered in that legislation – because it didn’t yet exist. As the internet emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, its use was limited primarily to corporations, and the government saw it as a commercial service rather than a critical societal tool. What’s more, arguments arose regarding the role of broadcasting companies: Are they market participants with obligations to shareholders or community trustees with obligations to society?

In 2010, under the Obama Administration, the FCC approved the FCC Open Internet Order, which established six neutrality principles, the most important of which are transparency – that consumers have a right to know internet performance – and equality – that ISPs cannot block unlawful traffic or content and companies cannot pay for priority for their websites or apps. Later, in 2014, the FCC was forced to narrow these rules to apply only to ISPs determined to be “common carriers.”

Unfortunately, in 2017, Trump appointed Ajit Pai as chair of the FCC. For much of last year, Pai argued against net neutrality, stating that the principle was anti-competition and anti-innovation. He actively campaigned to “restore internet freedom” and roll back or repeal entirely the existing net neutrality rules. Despite extensive disagreement with Pai’s views from citizens and companies around the country, the FCC voted to reverse net neutrality in December 2017. The plans to “restore internet freedom” determined April 23, 2018, as the beginning of a new age of internet non-neutrality.

How Will Security and Privacy be Affected?

Opinions are flying fast and furiously regarding how the end of net neutrality will change the web, but one development seems certain: The internet is about to become a much less secure space. Already, the web is filled with crime and mischief; cybercriminals and malicious hackers work diligently to produce disruptive apps and malware that negatively impact more than one-third of the world’s computers at any given time. Unfortunately, the end of net neutrality will likely give cyberthreats more power by weakening users’ defenses against them.

In the past, ISPs have provided critical protections that assisted users in avoiding the bulk of cyber threats. However, because ISPs are no longer tied to regulations that ensure equal and fair coverage, it is unlikely that ISPs will continue to offer cybersecurity without significant cost. Thus, users will soon face a critical choice: pay high prices to maintain their pre-existing safeguards or increase their risk of cyberattack. It should be expected that few users can afford the higher costs, so the rate of successful attacks will increase dramatically in coming years. Though users can continue to trust internet security software, it is unfair that additional levels of security will be denied to some due to the repeal of this law.

Is Any Other Legislation Affecting Neutrality or Cybersecurity?

Net neutrality did not go down without a fight, and the fight continues even after the “free internet” has gone into effect. At least 50 U.S. Senators are working to overturn the FCC’s decision. At lower levels, Montana was the first state to establish its own net neutrality laws, and New Jersey, New York, Hawaii and Vermont quickly followed suit. Likely, these efforts will preserve cybersecurity for users in those regions.

Furthermore, the U.S. government has long worked to establish countrywide cybersecurity protections, but disagreements and delays have pushed back ratification of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act another year (at least). For now, irate citizens and web users can try to reinstate net neutrality by communicating with local and federal representatives and arming their own devices in this post–net neutral world.

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