If we were to design the Internet all over again, it’s a good bet we wouldn’t build what we have today: A giant advertising oligopoly where consumers trade privacy for free services, and which is so insecure that hackers and criminals run wild.
But path dependency is a powerful thing, and so replacing the Internet we know with something else is very hard. That doesn’t mean, though, people aren’t trying.
There are big ideas in the air these days, including those shared this week at the bitcoin-blockchain extravaganza known as Consensus. The three-day event in New York City revealed some radical technology to change how we interact with the Internet.
The most ambitious announcement came from a company called Blockstack, which is building a new type of Internet browser using the distributed ledger software known as blockchain. The idea is that people will no longer have to supply log-in information to the likes of Facebook and Google to interact with others on the web. Instead, they’ll keep control of their identity by using blockchain’s authentication features.
If all this sounds pie-in-the-sky, don’t write it off too quickly. I spoke with executives from major companies who are all making the same case that “identity” is the biggest problem with the Internet right now, and hinted they’re set to unveil blockchain-based solutions of their own. Look for announcements this summer.
Meanwhile, at the Cyber Investing Summit, where Fortune’s Robert Hackett and I hosted panels this week, there was a feeling the tide is starting to turn against hackers. The arrival of new biometric and network technology, combined with the rise of cybersecurity focused investors like Strategic Cyber Ventures, mean Internet security is improving rapidly.
Finally, the HyperLedger Project—a relatively new non-profit group that focuses on blockchain—is growing quickly, and getting support from everyone from big banks to IBM to independent developers. If the project succeeds, the result will be a governing body to make blockchain technology secure and easy to use for everyone. In the long term, it could mean we’ll all be using a blockchain-based Internet that is superior to the broken web we use today.
Yes, all this feels far off. But as tech writer Walt Mossberg observed in a farewell column titled “The Disappearing Computer,” we’re in a transition period, and waiting as companies create subtle new types of software that are “simultaneously more intelligent and more secure.” The future, as it always does, will arrive.
And speaking of big ideas, Fortune just announced a few of the names, including former NSA director Keith Alexander and Target CEO Brian Cornell, who will be attending Brainstorm Tech in Aspen this July. It’s going to be amazing. Come join us.
Jeff John Roberts
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
All’s Fair in Love and Cyber War: The havoc wrecked by the Shadow Brokers, who are a Russian backed hacking group, includes a new form of collateral damage: the privacy of NSA hackers. Whereas there was once a gentlemen’s agreement among cyber-spooks not to expose each others’ identity, that custom has reportedly fallen by the wayside. Some say the U.S. started the trend of outing state-sponsored hackers when it published the name of five Chinese military hackers. (Wall Street Journal)
Tanium Raises $100M: The California-based unicorn, which has long been a darling of the cybersecurity set, announced a surprise $100 million funding round, which will see investors receive existing common stock. The round means Tanium can push off an anticipated IPO while providing liquidity for early employees. As for the series of recent PR incidents that raised question about its corporate culture, Tanium’s CEO told Fortune the company is mission driven and “not that cuddly.” (Fortune)
The Spies in Your Home: What do a doll, a popular brand of headphones and a sex toy all have in common? The manufacturers of all those items are targets of lawsuits that accuse them of using apps to record customer behavior without permission. The “stuff that spies on you” problem is driven in part by companies’ thirst for data and consumers’ apparent willingness to add an app to just about anything. (Fortune)
Why Cameras Are Compromised: Digital camera makers have a lousy reputation when it comes to security, failing to provide basic encryption to help photographers protect their files. The lack of security also leads to cameras being conscripted into bot-net armies. A report suggest the problem is less to do with technology than with an industry culture that clings to the past. (Financial Times)
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Fortune’s Robert Hackett looks at the hottest topic in blockchain finance these days: so-called ICOs which offer an easy and secure way for companies to raise money. A messaging service’s decision to have an ICO suggests the phenomenon is going mainstream.
Kik plans to debut its own cryptocurrency called “Kin” later this summer. The Waterloo, Ontario-based company is planning a crowdsourced initial coin offering or ICO, which lets startups mint their own digital money, raise funds outside the traditional venture capital world, and develop their own miniature economies. The exact date has yet to be determined. Read more on Fortune.com.
Blackchain’s Chasm of Death — and Who Makes it Out by Jeff John Roberts
Apple Reveals National Security Requests are Soaring by Don Reisinger
Intel and Big Banks Put $100M into Fin-Tech Firm R3 by Robert Hackett
Cloudflare’s Quest to Kill a Patent Troll Gains Steam by Jeff John Roberts
ONE MORE THING
The Thanks You Get for Saving the Internet. This was not journalism’s finest moment. The media, led by Britain’s infamous tabloid press, decided to repay the anonymous 22-year-old hero who stopped the WannaCry attacks by doxing him and staking out his house. This was not just a jerk move—it also made it harder for the security researcher to do his job. (USA Today)