GovUp & Cisco: The nature of digital trust

Let’s look at one of the basic elements of network security that Chris Coleman mentioned during his presentation Tuesday night (petulant microphone not included). He spoke of trust, trust in the network beneath the Internet, beneath the applications, the companies and the net itself. Without said trust, as Coleman said, the entire system of exchanges, be they commercial, informational or a mixture of the two, crumbles. The app store becomes a seedy dealership where behind every click of “Purchase” could lie either a Lexus or a lemon. Social networks become excuses to throw personal information out into an amorphous abyss.

The question that continues to ring in the back of my head is just in who does the public place its trust in regard to the Internet, and how that trust should be managed. Let’s toss out Web 2.0 classifications, architectural questions and the like from the query. And ignore who wishes to take upon the mantle of the highly-regarded, trustable entity on the Internet. I think when the average user looks at the Internet, they do so with the belief they’re looking at a largely uniform entity that’s split up into different sections that, as a whole, are akin to a city block.

There are stores with different rules, there are houses where social activities take place within different contexts and there are alleyways where some shady dealings may be taking place. Everyone reacts differently to each of these overly-simplified constructs, some prefer one store to another, feel fine going to places others wouldn’t dare trust their safety around.

But the ground beneath them, the concept of a building where everything is housed, the way in which they interact with the physical structures and the form of communication with the people around them is, in a familiar society, standardized and accommodating.

On the Internet though, I think that most people, when landing on sites that launch headfirst into Web 2.0, or utilize an interface that’s unfamiliar, may be more likely to place their trust than most would assume. Think of the last time you were in a foreign country and had to engage with the community with a marginal amount of context. It’s common to latch onto those who know what’s going on, to trust that they won’t take advantage of your naivety. In the same way, digital natives can hold massive sway over those slower on the uptake, for good and for ill, whether that slowness is due to reluctance to adopt or new-found economic prosperity.

The typical example of Nigerian spam is often tossed out, but now the threats to security and well-being can be much more elaborate, more insidious and, to run a counter, more benign and simple. Should some agency or some consumer group take greater efforts to educate Internet users? Or should folks be left to their own devices, for better or for worse but with marginal top-down direction? It’s the sort of stuff that makes my head spin, with so many pro’s and con’s, aye’s and nay’s that I have to toss these questions out to the Internet that birthed them.

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Chris Coleman

Morgan, I really like your analogy of the logical Internet to the physical city block and we should apply those same real life gut instincts to how we act in cyber space. No one would be shocked if the $25 Rolex that I bought on the street was a fake, but possibly a bit more surprised if I had bought that same fake from eBay. It all comes down to common sense. The same common sense that keeps us from going down a dark alley of a city block must also be present in our activities in cyber space. We should treat a suspicious e-mail or browser pop up no different than any street peddler selling premium Youis Yuiton bags.


This is an interesting and difficult topic. My husband and I routinely laugh at the ridiculous spam and phishing emails we get, writing them off as so obvious that no one could possibly fall for them. However, we are, as we like to call it, “denizens of the interwebs”. Many people do fall for these tricks, especially older people who didn’t grow up in this digital age.

My mother is always forwarding me panicked warnings about people who use a recording of a crying baby to lure women outside so they can kill them and the like. Now, I know that I can simply look it up on Snopes and find out if it’s true or not, but a lot of people don’t. And that is only one, fairly harmless, example. I’m sure there are a lot of stories of people who fell for the old “Nigerian prince” scam and lost a good deal of money. And let’s not even get into the children who meet up with a new “friend” from their favorite chat room, only to discover that the eleven year old from the next town over is actually an adult and a predator.

The internet is a big place and I personally think that regulation would be detrimental, not to mention practically impossible, which leaves the casual internet user to fend for him or herself. Places like Snopes are a great resource, but the casual internet user knows nothing of them. There is definitely a need for education, preferably free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. So, how do we get this information out there? And whose responsibility is it to do so? These are the big questions that need to be answered.