Written by Ron Diebert, the director of the Citizen Lab at U of T, Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace contains some very interesting information, of importance to anyone concerned with the future of the internet and communication. He discusses the major discoveries made by the lab, including massive criminal malware enterprises, government surveillance and censorship, and the use of cyberweapons like Stuxnet.

The first few chapters may seem basic if you actively follow the news on IT security and surveillance, but the material in the later parts is undeniably novel and interesting. The book is a bit of a lament for the death of the idealistic open internet, and the emergence of control by governments, particularly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The stakes here are high: the internet is a critical tool for maintaining democracy in open societies, confronting autocratic regimes, and dealing with global threats. The network is now in real danger of being suffocated by governments fixated on terrorism or maintaining domestic control, or who see it as a promising avenue for attacking their enemies.

Diebert proposes a distributed model for both securing and protecting the internet, while repeatedly underlining how governments are now the major threat to online freedom and political participation. Governments have rebuilt the backbone of the internet in order to achieve their censorship and surveillance objectives. It’s not a problem with a technical solution, from the perspective of citizens, but rather one which requires ongoing political agitation.

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