• Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

The commercial internet era kicked off in 1995, marking the start of the dot-com boom. Moreover, the advent of wave division multiplexing (WDM) and the rollout of fiber optic cables in the mid-1990s greatly expanded the capacity of the internet, which had a ground-breaking impact on culture, commerce, and technology. As a result, the world witnessed the rise of near-instant communication via e-mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, video chat, and the World Wide Web, giving way to communication platforms such as blogs, social networking services, and online shopping, etc.

Since then, the internet has become the center of focus in every aspect of modern life, including the political, economic, environmental and cultural sectors. Hence, its proper governance and safety are of prime importance for every country in an increasingly digitized world.

The Murky Side of the Internet

The internet helped the world overcome the physical restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 impasse and helped economies to stay afloat; however, at the same time, it has also become a network for clandestine and nefarious operations. For example, cases of illegal sexually explicit content operated by minors have surfaced on the net in recent years.

The creation and trading of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) is often regarded as the most harmful abuse found across online communication and social media platforms. The FBI in the US discovered that some adult sites lured minors monetarily to produce such content. In other cases, minors are forced into producing illicit sexual content, known as sextortion.

Also Read: Why It’s Time to Take the Internet Out of IoT

Investigations have shown that popular social media platforms offer self-generated child sexual abuse material (SG-CSAM) in private channels. The Internet Watch Foundation reportedly discovered SG-CSAM featuring minors on more than 100,000 web pages in 2023. Shockingly, this represents a 66% increase compared to the figures reported in 2022.

Another debilitating activity that is becoming increasingly prevalent on the internet is the spread of disinformation via generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) tools. Fabricated content ranging from political mudslinging to fake videos of well-known personalities has become so convincingly realistic that it is nearly impossible to detect using traditional tools or human reasoning.

Such developments are undermining public trust, especially during a country’s election campaigns where influencing public opinion takes center stage. "Auto-generated misinformation is likely to be a major part of the 2024 elections. Scammers are using [Generative] AI left, right and center,” a New York University professor recently told a news agency.

Furthermore, the future trajectory of AI is under scrutiny as two distinct investor camps have emerged regarding the technology's progression. In a notable development, tech magnate, Elon Musk, unveiled the Grok chatbot, an open-source competitor to ChatGPT, directly challenging OpenAI, a company he co-founded with its current CEO, Sam Altman.

Companies such as Meta support an open-source system in which researchers and other companies can access the technology's inner workings to develop new products or innovations. Recently, Meta, IBM and dozens of startups and researchers launched an alliance defending more open and collaborative AI-based project trials. On the other hand, OpenAI and Google support a higher level of secrecy to protect the technology from bad actors and monetize their deep investment in developing industry-leading tools. Regardless of the eventual outcome, the increasing prevalence of AI-generated content on public-facing platforms raises concerns due to its potential to blur the lines between truth and falsehood.

Also Read: Tech Giants to Be ‘Gatekeepers’ Under New DMA Internet Competition Law

The dark web, often referred to as the alternate internet, has become a haven for a wide array of illicit activities. From extortion and arms trafficking to the sale of illegal substances and global money laundering schemes, virtually anything is possible within its depths. Shockingly, ransomware developers, operating under the disguise of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) operators like LockBit, not only create and maintain ransomware tools and infrastructure but also offer them as a service in RaaS kits to other hackers, known as RaaS affiliates. These affiliates then deploy the ransomware to compromise organizational data, demanding hefty ransom payments in exchange for its release.

Moreover, Google researchers have pointed out that several surveillance software companies, who offer their products for national security usage, were enabling the use of dangerous hacking tools to target organizations, politicians and journalists. The spyware software infected the user’s device via the browsers Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or iOS apps, according to Google.

Dealing with the Deluge

Undoubtedly, the internet serves as the lifeline for the modern economy, supporting its reliance on e-commerce, remote communication, and seamless connectivity. Conversely, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that around 2.6 billion people worldwide remain offline and unable to access the benefits of digital technology. In an equitable world, the remaining population needs to be connected to the internet as part of the digital world.

Estimates suggest that closing the digital divide will require four times the USD 100 billion target set by the UN for raising funds by 2026. Despite the challenges posed by internet connectivity to our society, it's a reality that cannot be disregarded or wished away. Deliberate internet outages around the world cost the global economy billions of dollars every year. A day without the internet would cost the world upwards of USD 43 billion, as per global estimates.

Safeguarding Telecom Networks

Currently, mobile networks have been the easiest attack surface for digital perpetrators. Hackers constantly implement tactics to access networks through backdoors, intercepting calls, stealing data and causing network outages for vested gains. Protective measures from industry authorities such 3GPP, GSMA and ENISA for enhanced security controls have been put in place. Nevertheless, there is a notable absence of collaborative efforts and universally applied practices when it comes to utilizing these tools, even as the sophistication of attackers’ tactics continues to evolve alongside advancements in technology.

Implementing a network-based defense mechanism like Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) can play a crucial role in preserving data privacy and integrity, thus enhancing the security of communications. Additionally, adopting robust data sovereignty best practices will further contribute to mitigating the misuse of the internet.

Furthermore, as the digital economy grows, the number of internet users will only increase. Dubbed the ‘new oil,’ the data flow on the internet has not only become a valuable commodity for organizations to derive insights that are critical for their decision-making processes but also a key target area for cyber criminals. In the Middle East and MENA alone, the e-commerce market is forecast to reach USD 57 billion by 2026 and the trend is expected to follow suit globally.

To guarantee safe activity on the internet, in the face of stiff market competition, the implementation of awareness and effective educational campaigns becomes imperative. It calls for all ICT stakeholders and industry specialists to exchange cooperative prospects, and exchange know-how on the latest strategies and technologies in information security. Thus, resulting in the development of long-term security processes for a better and safer internet.

Pin It