New Analysis: Who Do You Trust?

Trying to Determine Which Anonymous to Believe
New Analysis: Who Do You Trust?
In the late '50s and early '60s, Johnny Carson hosted a daytime game show called "Who Do You Trust?" Though not storied CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, Carson was among the most respected and trusted personalities in media in the latter half of the 20th century. But that was before the Internet.

Trust has been a murky trait on the World Wide Web since its inception. Remember the 1993 Peter Steiner cartoon published in the New Yorker? A dog, sitting by a PC, tells his canine companion: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Just shows that man's best friend can't be trustworthy on online.

Today, it's hard to trust what we read on the Internet. Sure, our own biases dictate who we place our faith in: vs. Too often, though, many postings found on the likes of Twitter, YouTube and other sites don't even allow us to employ our biases to vet whether we trust what we see.

Take, for instance, the so-called hactivist group known as Anonymous. I've reported on postings it and the like-minded hacking group LulzSec have made. But I - like most other journalists - can't properly vet Anonymous' posts as being trustworthy. We don't know who they are.

In the past few days, it seems much of the Internet's bandwidth has been taken up with news stories, blogs and videos reporting and commenting on a threat, purported by Anonymous, that it will take down Facebook on Nov. 5, also known as Guy Fawkes Day. (In the comic book series "V for Vendetta," the lead character, a revolutionary, wears a mask of the goateed Guy Fawkes, who plotted to assassinate King James I in 1605; Anonymous uses that mask as its iconic emblem.)

A YouTube video entitled "Message from Anonymous: Operation Facebook, Nov 5 2011" explains why the group feels it's necessary to bring down Facebook. Simply, the video states, Facebook's privacy rules don't protect the privacy of its members.

But how do we know that Anonymous produced that video? Indeed, in the past day, doubts have been raised by some bloggers, who contend the message is fake, citing posts from others employing the Anonymous moniker as denying they're targeting Facebook.

One Twitter site believed to be used by Anonymous had the following post around midnight Wednesday: "TO PRESS: MEDIAS OF THE WORLD... STOP LYING! #OpFacebook is just ANOTHER FAKE! WE DONT 'KILL' THE MESSENGER. THAT'S NOT OUR STYLE #Anonymous." (#OpFacebook is the Twitter tag used for the supposed attack on Facebook.)

Can we trust what the deniers say as truthful? Does it matter? Either way, Anonymous members must be LOL at the confusion.

One thing about the Facebook threat - whether faux or genuine - it's grabbed people's attention. Facebook strikes close to home for its 750 million active users - that's more than 10 percent of the world's population - half of whom access the social net daily (if you find Facebook's stat's trustworthy). I've long maintained to get people to pay attention to IT security - whether it's pushing Congress to enact needed cybersecurity legislation or improving their own online hygiene - Facebook would have to be breached and taken offline for a period of time. Maybe I'll get my wish (hope not).

With so many Facebook addicts, an attack or the mere threat of one could be the act that shakes them up. Other breaches seem not to change too many habits; millions of consumers receive notifications each year that breaches at their banks or gaming sites or other websites they frequent have exposed their personal identifiable information. They react with a shrug of their collective shoulders because for the vast majority of them, their identities haven't been stolen, and they just ignore the next breach notification. No foul, no harm. Dangerous thinking.

Many Internet users behave as if they're back in the '50s and '60s, when the likes of Carson and Cronkite dominated the media, putting trust in the online institutions they visit. We should know better, but we don't always act as if we do. Trust must be earned, but winning that trust online these days isn't something that's easily attained. It's as much as the user's responsibility as is websites' operators to define and build that trust.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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