172. Splinternets

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory welcomes returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Mr. Howard R. Simkin with his submission to our Mad Scientist Crowdsourcing topic from earlier this summer on The Operational Environment: What Will Change and What Will Drive It – Today to 2035?  Mr. Simkin’s post addresses the military challenges posed by Splinternets.  Competition during Multi-Domain Operations is predicated on our Forces’ capability to conduct cyber and influence operations against and inside our strategic competitors’ networks.  In a world of splinternets, our flexibility to conduct and respond to non-kinetic engagements is challenged by this new reality in the operational environment. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Purpose.
This paper discusses the splintering of the Internet that is currently underway – the creation of what are commonly being called splinternets. Most versions of the future operational environment assume an Internet that is largely accessible to all. Recent trends point to a splintering effect as various nation states or multi-state entities seek to regulate access to or isolate their portion of the Internet.1, 2  This paper will briefly discuss the impacts of those tendencies and propose an operational response.

The Problem.
What are the impacts of a future operational environment in which the Internet has fractured into a number of mutually exclusive subsets, referred to as splinternets?

Background.
Splinternets threaten both access to data and the exponential growth of the Internet as a global commons. There are two main drivers fracturing the Internet. One is regulation and the other is isolationism. Rooted in politics, the Internet is being fractured by regulation and isolationism. Counterbalancing this fracturing is the Distributed Web (DWeb).

Regulation.
Regulation usually involves revenue or internal security. While admirable in intent, regulations cast a chill over the growth and health of the Internet.3  Even well-intentioned regulations become a burden which forces smaller operators to go out of business or to ignore the regulations. Depending on the country involved, activity which was perfectly legal can become illegal by bureaucratic fiat. This acts as a further impetus to drive users to alternative platforms. An example is the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect on 25 May 2018. It includes a number of provisions which make it far more difficult to collect data. The GDPR covers not only entities based in the EU but also those who have users in the EU.4  U.S. companies such as Facebook have scrambled to comply so as to maintain access to the EU virtual space.5

Isolation.
China is the leader in efforts to isolate their portion of the internet from outside influence.6  To accomplish this, they have received help from their own tech giants as well as U.S. companies such as Google.7  The Chinese have made it very difficult for outside entities to penetrate the “Great Firewall” while maintaining the ability of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct malign activities across the Internet.8  Recently, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google opined that China would succeed in splitting the Internet in the not too distant future.9

Russia has also proposed a similar strategy, which they would extend to the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The reason given is the “dominance of the US and a few EU states concerning Internet regulation” which Russia sees as a “serious danger” to its safety, RosBiznesKonsalting (RBK)10  quotes from minutes taken at a meeting of the Russian Security Council. Having its own root servers would make Russia independent of monitors like the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and protect the country in the event of “outages or deliberate interference.” “Putin sees [the] Internet as [a] CIA tool.”11

Distributed Web (DWeb).
The DWeb is “a peer-to-peer Internet that is free from firewalls, government regulation, and spying.” Admittedly, the DWeb is a difficult problem. However, both the University of Michigan and a private firm, Maidsafe claim to be close to a solution.12  Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and organizer of the first Decentralized Web Summit two years ago, recently advocated a “DWeb Camp.” Should a DWeb become a reality, many of the current efforts by governments to control or regulate the Internet would founder.

Operational Response.
Our operational response should involve Special Operations Forces (SOF), Space, and Cyber forces. The creation of splinternets places a premium on the ability to gain physical access to the splinternet’s internal networks. SOF is an ideal force to perform this operation because of their ability to work in politically sensitive and denied environments with or through indigenous populations. Once SOF gains physical access, Space would be the most logical means to send and receive data. Cyber forces would then perform operations within the splinternet.

Conclusion.
Most versions of the future operational environment assume an Internet that is largely accessible to all. Therefore, splinternets are an important ‘alternative future’ to consider. In conjunction with Space and Cyber forces, SOF can play a key role in the operational response to allow the Joint Force to continue to operate against splinternet capable adversaries.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

– Mr. Simkin‘s previous Mad Scientist Laboratory posts:

Keeping the Edge, and

Sine Pari,

… as well as his winning Call for Ideas presentation The Future ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) 2035-2050, delivered at the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference, co-hosted with SRI International on 8–9 March 2018 at their Menlo Park campus in California.

– LtCol Jennifer “JJ” Snow‘s blog post Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted?

– Dr. Mica Hall‘s blog post The Cryptoruble as a Stepping Stone to Digital Sovereignty

Howard R. Simkin is a Senior Concept Developer in the DCS, G-9 Capability Development & Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He has over 40 years of combined military, law enforcement, defense contractor, and government experience. He is a retired Special Forces officer with a wide variety of special operations experience. He is also a proclaimed Mad Scientist.

References:
Baker, Dr. Jessica. “What Does GDPR Mean For You?” Digital Guardian. July 11, 2018. https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-does-gdpr-mean-for-you (accessed September 14, 2018).

Hoffer, Eric. Reflections on the Human Condition. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

L.S. “The Economist explains, “What is the splinternet”?” The Economist. November 22, 2016. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/11/22/what-is-the-splinternet (accessed September 14, 2018).

Nash, Charlie. “The Google Tapes: Employees Applauded Company for Taking Bold Stance Against China.” Breitbart. September 13, 2018. https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/13/the-google-tape-employees-applauded-company-for-taking-bold-stance-against-china/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

Sanger, David E. The Perfect Weapon, War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. New York: Crown (Kindle Edition), 2018.

Sterling, Bruce. “The China Splinternet Model is Winning.” Wired. July 2, 2016. https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2016/07/china-splinternet-model-winning/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

Tangermann, Victor. “With GDPR Decision, Zuckerberg Proves Yet Again He Has Learned Absolutely Nothing From the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.” Futurism. April 4, 2018. https://futurism.com/zuckerberg-gdpr-cambridge-analytica/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

Tanguay, Pierre, Sabrina Dubé-Morneau, and Gaëlle Engelberts. “Splinternets: How Online Balkanization is Creating a Headache for Digital Content Distribution.” CMF Trends. January 31, 2018. https://trends.cmf-fmc.ca/splinternets-how-online-balkanization-is-creating-a-headache-for-digital-content-distribution/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

End Notes:

1 Tanguay, Pierre, Sabrina Dubé-Morneau, and Gaëlle Engelberts. “Splinternets: How Online Balkanization is Creating a Headache for Digital Content Distribution.” CMF Trends. January 31, 2018. https://trends.cmf-fmc.ca/splinternets-how-online-balkanization-is-creating-a-headache-for-digital-content-distribution/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

2 L.S. “The Economist explains, “What is the splinternet”?” The Economist. November 22, 2016. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/11/22/what-is-the-splinternet (accessed September 14, 2018).

3 Duckett, Chris. “The race to ruin the internet is upon us”. ZDNet. 23 September 2018. https://www.zdnet.com/article/the-race-to-ruin-the-internet-is-upon-us/ (accessed November 13, 2018).

4 Baker, Dr. Jessica. “What Does GDPR Mean For You?” Digital Guardian. July 11, 2018. https://digitalguardian.com/blog/what-does-gdpr-mean-for-you (accessed September 14, 2018).

5 Tangermann, Victor. “With GDPR Decision, Zuckerberg Proves Yet Again He Has Learned Absolutely Nothing From the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.” Futurism. April 4, 2018. https://futurism.com/zuckerberg-gdpr-cambridge-analytica/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

6 Sterling, Bruce. “The China Splinternet Model is Winning.” Wired. July 2, 2016. https://www.wired.com/beyond-the-beyond/2016/07/china-splinternet-model-winning/ (accessed September 2018, 2018).

7 Nash, Charlie. “The Google Tapes: Employees Applauded Company for Taking Bold Stance Against China.” Breitbart. September 13, 2018. https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/09/13/the-google-tape-employees-applauded-company-for-taking-bold-stance-against-china/ (accessed September 14, 2018).

8 Chan, Edward. “Quick Take: The Great Firewall.” Bloomberg News. November 5, 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/great-firewall-of-china (accessed November 13, 2018).

9 Kolodny, Lora. “Former Google CEO predicts the internet will split in two — and one part will be led by China.” CNBC. September 20, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/20/eric-schmidt-ex-google-ceo-predicts-internet-split-china.html (accessed November 13, 2018).

10 The RBK Group or RosBiznesKonsalting is a large Russian media group headquartered in Moscow.

11 “Russia Will Create Its Own Internet.” Cyber Security Intelligence Newsletter. January 26, 2018. https://www.cybersecurityintelligence.com/blog/russia-will-create-its-own-internet-3082.html (accessed November 13, 2018).

12 Perry, Tekla. “The Decentralized Internet of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”? Real-World Teams Say They’ve Already Invented It.” IEEE Spectrum. June 9, 2017. https://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/telecom/internet/hbo-silicon-valleys-decentralized-internet-realworld-teams-say-they-already-invented-it (accessed November 13, 2018).

Disclaimer: This is a USASOC G9 Gray Paper that has already been cleared for unlimited release. Distribution is unlimited.  The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

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