Review of The Darkening Web

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These are scary times online. Facebook feeds offer content of dubious provenance. Sinister forces might compromise the microchips in your car and refrigerator. Russia seems to possess malware that can shut down its adversaries’ power grids. Amid this bleak state of affairs, technologist Alexander Klimburg weighs in and hunkers down with a pessimistic study. He begins with an almost-nuclear war – that only one human's trust in his own judgment over that of a machine – averted. Klimberg finds scant evidence for that sort of unselfish rationality elsewhere in the Internet world. He argues that in the future, self-interested actors with nefarious commercial and political aims will hotly contest the once-utopian Internet. Klimberg, the program director at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, is a knowledgeable policy wonk with high-level professional credentials. He is not a computer geek. His take on the bleaker and more criminal aspect of the Web comes from a policy perspective. Students, professors, politicians and those seeking a broad-view of the criminal Internet will find much of interest here.


About the Author

Alexander Klimburg, the program director at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and an associate and former fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.


Almost War

In September 1983, Klimberg reports,  a software glitch almost started a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets’ missile-defense system signaled that the United States had launched a single nuclear warhead. The lieutenant colonel working the overnight shift faced a life-and-death judgment: Was the warning real? He told his superiors in Moscow it was a false alarm – but a few moments later, the system sounded an alert that the United States had launched four more missiles. Again, the officer held firm. An uncommon optical illusion had triggered the false alert. Klimberg asserts that the officer’s courage underscored the importance of human judgment in the universe of computing. The episode showed the real possibility that a computing glitch could create chaos in the real world.

Looking ahead, Klimberg believes that cyberwar and information security promise to become only more destabilizing to global security. He describes, for example, how a cyberattack could shut off power grids, sabotage financial systems and cause planes to fall from the sky.

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