Week in Review: November 10, 2017

by Dan Bateyko

Mozilla survey prompts questions about the internet-of-things and our connected future

The results of Mozilla’s "How connected are you?" survey are in, shedding light on global Internet users’ use of connected devices and their thoughts on the future of Internet connectivity. The survey asked nearly 190,000 people from around the world questions such as “Who do you most trust to help you learn how to protect your safety, security and privacy online?” and “What are you most excited about as we move toward a more digitally connected future?”

In the August call for survey participants, Mozilla illuminated the statistical trend of Internet-connected device use and asked thought-provoking questions:

“By the year 2020, there could be 30 billion internet connected devices operating in the world, according to experts at the likes of IEEE and Juniper research. If there are 7.5 billion people and 30 billion connected devices…That averages out to four devices for every person on the planet. That’s a lot of laptops, routers and smart toasters. Is being that connected a good thing? Will life be better? How do you feel about this?“

Among the survey’s findings, Mozilla found that the world is evenly divided between worry and excitement over the prospects of a connected future. When asked about their top fears however, some 45% of global respondents expressed concern about a loss of privacy, with that number rising for those self-identifying as “tech savvy”. When asked who holds responsibility for securing that privacy on connected devices, one third believed it was up to themselves, another third believed it was the manufacturer's duty, and the remainder were unsure or believed it to be the government’s role. While privacy was among the top fears, privacy and security were not considered top concerns when people purchase a new connected device, looking instead to price and functionality.

For more on the survey, including the raw data full results, visit Mozilla’s website here.

Configuration slipup disrupts Internet service across the U.S.

On November 6, a configuration error at Level 3—an enterprise Internet service provider responsible for the Internet backbone used by companies like Comcast, Spectrum, and Verizon—disrupted Internet service for millions of U.S. citizens. The source of the error was non-malicious and according to a statement from a Level 3 representative, service was able to be restored within 90 minutes.

The configuration error in question was a BGP routing leak, causing routing issues in the interoperability between ISPs. According to a blog post by network monitoring company ThousandEyes, “Level 3 leaked over a thousand routes belonging to Comcast subsidiary networks and their customers. The immediate effect was that instead of traffic going through the Comcast backbone to reach these networks, traffic was forced to go via Level 3.” (for further technical explanation, see here or here )

Responses to the incident underscore the fragility of Internet infrastructure. Quoted in The Boston Globe, David Clark, an MIT senior research scientist, stated that “the Internet as a whole is very robust … the problem is that if you’re in charge of a piece of it, you can always screw your piece up.” Expressing similar sentiments, Lily Hay Newman, writes for Wired that “Monday's outages reinforce how precarious connectivity really is, and how certain aspects of the internet's architecture—offering flexibility and ease-of-use—can introduce instability into what has become a vital service.”

Citizen Lab releases report on WeChat censorship and the 19th National Communist Party Congress

A new report from Citizen Lab, a laboratory based out of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, shows evidence of WeChat censoring content in the runup to the Chinese 19th National Communist Party Congress (NCPC19), held from October 18th to October 24th by the Communist Party of China.

Using a sample of keywords from Chinese-language news articles, Citizen Lab found 241 unique keywords blocked over the course of the year. According to the report, WeChat users with accounts registered to mainland China phone numbers experienced the block, with more keywords being blocked in group chats than in one-to-one chats. Keywords included criticisms of the lack of female representatives at the Congress, of human rights violations, and factionalism in the Communist Party.

Citizen Lab also found that neutral references to the party, including mentions of the Congress, party leaders, and policies, also resulted in a block. The report suggests that “This wide scope may be due to WeChat proactively over-blocking content around a topic it knows is highly sensitive to avoid official reprimands, or may be part of a government strategy to manage online discussions and public opinion.”

To see the full report, visit Citizen Lab’s website here.