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World Wide Web Day: Celebrating 30 Years of the Web

Thu, 01 Aug 2019

August 1st is World Wide Web Day, a day described as “a global celebration dedicated to web browsing, the online activity that brings the world at your fingertips and a wealth of knowledge at your feet.” #WideWebDay will be celebrated with selfies, memes and arguments over how to pronounce GIF. On WWW Day let’s consider perhaps the greatest online influencer of all, Tim Berners-Lee and his brainchild, the web. Without him, there would be no social media with which to influence. 

World Wide Web Day: Celebrating 30 Years of the Web

You’re reading this article online most likely on a mobile device – this is the norm in developed countries. Yet, a mere thirty years ago, The World Wide Web was simply a concept. The web's inventor wasn't out to change the world; he was simply trying to solve a logistical problem. It’s baffling to think that something first deemed “vague but exciting” in March of 1989 when Berners-Lee, a British computer programmer, first proposed the concept, has, in fact, changed the world.

Half of the world’s population still isn’t online, which denies them access to the vastest collective of human knowledge the world has ever known and therefore presents a significant inequality. For the other half of the population, the benefits of connectivity come at a cost to privacy, democracy and rights. The web is still young, and like anything new, there are growing pains.

Where the Web was Born

Currently, the internet and the web are interchangeable terms. However, their purposes are different. As defined by NBC News, “The web is a widely used system to access the internet. The internet is a network of computer networks that make it possible for computers and various devices to communicate with one another.”

Berners-Lee's vision of the web came from his work throughout the 1980s at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He had been trying to find a solution so that physicists around the world who were all using different hardware and software could share information. In 1989, his ideas culminated in a proposal that described a hypertext database with typed links that connected documents.

“HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will. Potentially, HyperText provides a single user-interface to many large classes of stored information such as reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line systems help. We propose the implementation of a simple scheme to incorporate several different servers of machine-stored information already available at CERN, including an analysis of the requirements for information access needs by experiments.”

The proposal imagined the web serving multiple purposes, such as "document registration, online help, project documentation, news schemes, and so on." However, the inventor had the foresight not to be overly specific when laying out the web's potential uses. A wise choice since now, as Berners-Lee stated in his open letter celebrating the 30th anniversary of his concept, “the web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more.”

In historical terms, the web's domination of the global communication landscape was almost instantaneous. According to the article The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate and Compute Information (2011) in Science: the web only communicated one percent of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks in 1993, by 2000 it had already reached 51 percent, and by 2007, more than 97 percent of the telecommunicated information was flowing through the web.

On August 6th, 1991, the World Wide Web became publicly available and began to change how we communicate, create, work, store, share, shop and learn. In 1991, we all became part of a global web community, and it became our communal responsibility to keep our online community safe, just as we would our neighbourhood.

Protecting Our Online Community

According to NBC News, Berners-Lee said the web has "given marginalized groups a voice," but has also "created an opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred and made all kinds of crime easier to commit." He recognizes that the web isn't perfect, but Berners-Lee optimistically hopes that over the next 30 years, we, as a global online community, can make it better. In his open letter, Berners-Lee states what he sees broadly as the three primary sources of dysfunction with the web. The following are the three most significant issues as outlined by Berners-Lee in his own words:

1)      Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment

2)      System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation

3)      Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse

Threat Actors, Clickbait, Pop-ups and Trolls

With the advent of the web came the advent of cybersecurity. To vastly improve the web the three problems outlined by Berners-Lee need to be tackled. As he stated in his open letter, “if we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

While number one is impossible to eliminate, we can create laws and take the initiative to minimize such behaviours, just as we have done in offline communities. Number two requires us to redesign systems and change incentives; also, we need to be educated as an audience and make better online choices. Clickbait would cease to exist if it stopped baiting our attention and we stopped clicking. Number three requires research to understand existing systems and forge new ways.

As Berners-Lee states, “given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30." Until the web becomes the safe utopia of data that Berners-Lee imagined, cybersecurity needs to be a primary focus. ISA has been around for over 27 years, almost as long as the web and years before cybersecurity was a term.

As an organization, we’ve witnessed the growth and development of the web and have transformed our security practices alongside it. From defending against the early viruses of the 1990s named “The Melissa” and “ILOVEYOU” that caused widespread email failure, to Mafiaboy in 2000, to the targeted breaches, ransomware, fileless malware and state-sponsored attacks of today, we’ve been there for it all and plan to be around for the next 30. Let’s work together to move the web away from digital adolescence towards a more mature, safe and responsible future.

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