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Internet 'kill switch' bill reintroduced as Egypt remains dark

Senate proposes deactivation law for cyberattacks on same day Mubarak regime cuts service to quell protests

By , Network World
January 31, 2011 06:03 PM ET

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Nolle says that even though the Internet could come under attack, a 'kill switch' is "inconsistent" with the way U.S. law enforcement treats the telephone network.

"I think it would be a bad policy," he said. "To make the Internet a conduit that is singled out, handled differently than the public switched telephone network is trampling over individual rights in a way that isn't consistent with the country's own policies with communications."

Some - indeed, many - also view the Internet as the new TV or radio network too. And in times of national emergency, the U.S. government can pre-empt programming to communicate alerts or directives over both mediums.

But Nolle says this is different than disabling the infrastructure in whole or in part.

"If the government wants to grab 90% of Internet capacity for national defense or for emergency services, and make it a prioritizing or a pre-emption, then I don't think there's a problem," he says. "There's only three or four major TV networks. If the government pre-empts time on four major networks, then you get to anybody who tunes to those networks. Are there only four major URLs?"

But the Internet is under attack regularly with distributed denial of service (DoS) hits, viruses and other malicious actions while the telephone network, even though it too could be disrupted, is not - at least not to the extent the Internet is. Nolle says it still should not be treated any differently than the PSTN.

"There has to be a set of rules - we have to give the government mechanisms to shut off anybody who initiates (a phone or Internet distributed DoS attack)," he says. "If any given address initiates X number of calls per minute, block it. But that's different than saying, 'You can't use the Internet.'"

"In general killing the ability to communicate in a time of emergency makes the emergency worse - good information is important in an emergency," says Scott Bradner, technical security officer at Harvard University and a longtime participant and contributor to the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Bradner believes the bill may not make much of a difference because the handful of service providers that deliver most of the Internet service in the U.S. "tend (to do what) the government asks even if there is no specific law" if it is deemed in the interest of national security.

"But if a cutoff means that a bank needs to take its ATMs off the net or a power company needs to take its generators off the net... it would not be a problem," he says.

Read more about security in Network World's Security section.

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