Thursday, January 1, 2015

Book Review: Broken Web

Broken Web, George Ure

Why would I trust my entire financial and social life to a system which is involved in several low-level wars in the world and is fraught with "malware" and viruses, not to mention it could be in danger of burning out at some point?
- George Ure, Broken Web
Let's kick off 2015 with a look into the guts of the internet and the everyday realities of cybercrime and cyber warfare.

The Sony hack obviously springs to mind (though recent reports now point towards a disgruntled insider, rather than the North Koreans), as does the role internet communications played in the "Arab Spring," both during the uprisings as well as during the backlash by central governments.

Other famous (or infamous) hacks reveal just how lucrative and potentially devastating war and crime on the internet can be:
Which leads us to revisit "the internet" - a mechanism of data transfer and commerce barely in its infancy 25 years ago and now as ubiquitous as water and power in most industrialized countries.

Unlike a water or power utility, however, the internet as we know it today has some significant vulnerabilities.  Will this system, which was deployed during the greatest run-up in positive mood ever recorded, survive the coming downturn in mood in any form we currently recognize?  Or is this massive, world-spanning system poised to fragment, disintegrate, and balkanize into "safer" corporate run "ecologies" such as we see Amazon and Apple attempting to construct?

I bring up the socionomic concept of mass mood for a reason.  Think of the inherent assumptions built into the way we use the internet today - we place massive amounts of personal and financial information out on websites we have little to no control over and millions of times each day people around the globe plug in credit card numbers or check bank accounts using this platform, with little regard to the realities of just how vulnerable their information is.  The unspoken trust built into this system could only have flourished during a period of almost delusional optimism.

Broken Web

A run-down of the vulnerabilities can be found in Broken Web: The Coming Collapse of the Internet.  The author, George Ure, is the publisher of the Peoplenomics newsletter, and provides daily socioeconomic commentary at his Urbansurvival.com site.

The book reviews a variety of ways in which the internet as we currently use it could be compromised, rendered inefficient, or be forced to shut down temporarily or permanently.

The themes range from system complexity, to malware, to the growth in authoritarianism around the globe.  While Mr. Ure regards mood as a secondary effect, instead of a primary driver as posited by socionomic theory, the end result is the same - the internet, over which many people around the world conduct critical financial transactions, communicate, and store important data - is far more vulnerable to disruption than most imagine. 

Pros of the Book
Ure covers a lot of ground in this book and demonstrates a knowledge of the underlying systems and architecture that support internet communications.  The various factors that might play into the "collapse of the internet" range from socioeconomic factors to market oversaturation and migration to new infrastructure to malware and viruses to EMP.

You are provided with a checklist of steps you can take to mitigate the damage a prolonged internet outage might have on you, your finances, and records.

There are a number of links to solid supporting documentation, so you can dig more deeply into some of the topics if you so choose.

Cons of the Book
The book was born of a series of articles Mr. Ure wrote for his subscriber site in 2012.  Some of the information and concerns mention show a little age, though nothing that damages the overall thesis.

There is one gap in the thesis that caught my attention.  One of the parallels he uses early in the work is studying the "S-curve" created by the build-out of earlier infrastructure like rail and roads.  What is left unsaid, though, is this infrastructure still exists and contributes mightily to transportation and economic activity.  One could see a scenario where the internet does not "collapse" but instead becomes a steady background utility - assuming the other challenges he identifies can be mitigated.

Evaluation
At $9.99, the price is a bit steep for an e-book.  That said, that is what you might spend for a sandwich and drink in many restaurants at lunch.  Instead of empty carbs and heartburn, however, Broken Web at least leaves you in more informed place when you finish.

NOTE: I have not received any compensation for this review, neither will I get any "kickback" from Amazon via the link (the Amazon Affiliate program doesn't cover Missouri due to the structure of our tax laws). 

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