Two billion and counting

According to a report by the United Nations, the number of Internet users globally exceeded two billion a few months ago. It is clear to me, as someone who works with badware, that the bulk of those 2 billion users are ill prepared to navigate the online world safely and securely. That’s really no surprise, when you think about it. We humans are genetically programmed to survive in the physical world, or at least that of our ancestors. We instinctively flee from stronger predators, become uneasy if someone looks “shifty,” and pull our hands away from a flame when it starts to burn.

As Bruce Schneier has written about extensively, our hard-wired tendencies do not always help us make the best decisions in assessing risk generally, or online in particular. They are, after all, mostly designed to keep us safe from immediate harm in the physical world.

Beyond this genetic programming, we all learn how to navigate the world as we grow up. Parenting, teaching, media, social cues and our own experience help guide us in our learning.

Navigating safely online is simultaneously less complex and more complex than doing so in the “real” world. The distinction is an artificial one, in one sense, as the Internet is integral to the daily fabric of many of our lives. Still, there’s nothing in our genetic programming or in the experience of most people alive today that has prepared them for protecting their computers, deciding where to click, or choosing which software to install.

So, what can we do—where “we” might include the technology industry, government, educators, parents, society—to help equip over two billion Internet users to make safer, more secure choices? What can (or must) change in how we educate, how we design user interfaces, how we signal danger, how we govern—to compensate for the instinctual cues and shared cultural experience that we lack in cyberspace?

I think a lot about these questions. I started this blog in part to give me a place to share thoughts, conversations, further questions, relevant resources, and hopefully an occasional answer. I hope others interested in this subject will engage, as well, whether through their own blogs, comments here, Twitter, or other avenues.