The next big threat to the Internet may be regulation in the name of safety. Recently, cyber-terrorists crashed major commercial Web sites, such as E-Trade and Yahoo. The attacks were simple but effective: The hackers loaded thousands of computers with software that would send messages to a particular Web site simultaneously. The Web sites became overloaded and crashed. Catching the culprits will not be easy because they use computers owned by unsuspecting and innocent Web surfers.
The president and others seem to believe this is a problem the federal government should try to solve. Bill Clinton wants $2 billion from Congress to pay for a system to protect U.S. telecommunications and related systems. Under Mr. Clinton’s watch, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department have already formed the National Infrastructure Protection Center. Pressure also seems to be mounting to create a cyber security czar to direct federal Internet security policy, according to the Wall Street Journal. This could be a prelude to convening a panel of experts and posting cops at every cyber corner, reading personal messages and looking for bad guys.
Republicans also seem to think the government can assemble the brains to solve this problem. The Internet attacks must be halted by assembling the “best minds” in the country, George W. Bush recently said on “Meet the Press.” Although Mr. Bush did not elaborate on how he thought those minds should be put to work, his proposal hearkens back to a time when people reflexively turned to government for solutions.
Fortunately, private enterprise is already proving that the government need not get involved. Digital Island Inc., which hosts Web sites for large companies, says it has software that can defeat the new hackers. Although company officials don’t want to publicize exactly how it works so hackers can’t crack the new defense the software identifies messages intended to overwhelm a Web site and discards them, preventing an overload.
It should not surprise anyone that creative individuals, capitalizing on fulfilling societal needs, have worked to come up with a solution to this particular one. This kind of enterprise is perhaps an indication that the private sector considers the Internet too important to leave to federal “experts.” “Dot Com” businesses are the powder behind the stock market boom. They are giving Americans access to communications, entertainment, education and business in ways that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago. That makes them a target for everything from taxes to hackers. Recent Chinese threats of a cyber war, the likes of which Taiwan suffered recently, is a warning of what may come.
Government experts have already shown the risks of trusting them to oversee vital U.S. industries. Jimmy Carter tried solving the energy crisis some 25 years ago through government regulation, and only made things worse. Ronald Reagan threw those regulators out, ending that crisis. The parallels are by no means exact, but there’s an important lesson for combating cyber-terrorists: Don’t let the government get in the way of the solution. It is a mistake to rely solely on regulatory muscle rather than individual initiative.
The Internet is a lot like other industries in that its greatness is simply the sum of small bits of creativity contributed by millions of ordinary people. No government panel can match that. The Internet is simply too important to be left to the nation’s “best minds,” when it can be left to every mind.