Kevin Werbach and Andrea Matwyshyn Discuss How the U.S. Can Improve Internet Security and Access

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on February 8, 2018


A preliminary proposal for a nationalized 5G network that has been circulating in the White House was released without authorization and made public by the news site Axios last week. News of the proposal—which addressed economic and security concerns related to China—raised alarm from federal regulators and telecommunication companies.


“It’s not going to happen. This was a trial balloon floated by one staffer in the National Security Council. At some point in the last few months the PowerPoint was leaked out, which is an interesting story in itself that someone wanted to leak that.” – Kevin Werbach, The Wharton School of Business


The memo was “an attempt to address multiple perceived problems with a silver bullet-type of solution, except the bullet is neither silver nor a solution.” – Andrea Matwyshyn, Northeastern University


Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach and Northeastern University professor and cybersecurity expert Andrea Matwyshyn discussed the released proposal and the complexities of internet security and broadband coverage in an interview with the Knowledge@Wharton show.


Below are a few excerpts from “How Can the U.S. Improve Internet Security, Speed and Access?” which aired February 7, 2018.


Reactions to White House Proposal for a Nationalized 5G Network


“There’s no simple answer” to the issues of network security, speed, coverage, and so forth, Werbach said. “Thinking that there’s a simple answer to this is itself an indication that someone who is in a position where their job is to be smart about this and to understand it deeply, just doesn’t get it — that, to me, is the scariest thing in this story.”


Matwyshyn listed three concerns that may have prompted the idea of setting up a national mobile network. The first is the rising threats to telecom and computing security as seen by the numerous data breaches in recent years, she said. The second concern, Matwyshyn said, is “the comparatively diminishing quality of U.S. internet access,” explaining that the U.S. is “falling behind the world” in the quality and speeds of internet access.


Competition with other countries in the business space is perhaps the third factor the memo’s author considered, but that again “is another set of complicated issues,” Matwyshyn said. “I think it was someone who had read a little bit about each of these issues and was trying to aggregate them in a way that resulted in a sub-optimal policy proposal.”


Addressing Network Security


In addressing national security concerns, it is not advisable to leave the provision of wireless services to a single private company or a government-controlled network, said Matwyshyn. “The key to security is redundancy. You always want to have multiple ways for citizens to get access with multiple different technologies. If your adversaries attack one and take down one [network], there is a backup system that citizens can turn to make sure that they’re getting the best information about how to protect themselves and their families.”


“Security is always going to be a challenge because it’s a challenge at the end points, it’s a challenge in the networks, it’s a challenge now with state-sponsored actors and so forth," said Werbach. “It needs to be built into the processes at every stage in building these networks and building applications and using them.” If the government were to control it, then it would create “a single point of failure,” which would be exactly the wrong way to approach it, he added, agreeing with Matwyshyn on that aspect of vulnerability.


Need for Open Internet Networks


It is also important to have open internet networks, said Werbach, pointing out that the Trump administration’s decision to remove Obama-era net neutrality rules could potentially get in the way of that. “Basically, they’ve allowed the companies that are providing internet access total freedom to block and discriminate and manipulate traffic on the network,” he added. “[The U.S.] is falling behind the world [and is] an outlier in terms of not having an idea that the internet has to be an open platform.”


Werbach said he did expect those internet service providers to behave responsibly and not act as censors of content. At the same time, in order to maximize the potential of networks, he wanted “a basic foundation that says this needs to be an open network that allows for new applications and innovation.”


Matwyshyn said that in the debate over the Trump administration’s memo, “the concern is not just about the mechanics of internet access — it’s about the next generation of innovation.” If the issue of internet access is not fixed, the U.S. would fail in building the automated infrastructure that new technologies will require.


Matwyshyn pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration has been approving new uses for internet-connected devices, including pills and artificial organs. “In order for that kind of innovation to be supported and functional, you have to have a robust U.S. internet infrastructure where critical security updates can be pushed to your [artificial] pancreas when you need them, where your car can get critical security updates quickly, and where the navigation maps are updated on an expedited basis,” she said.


“If you don’t have a robust set of internet access points throughout the country, the trust that’s required to maintain this next generation of always-on, always-connected innovation is simply not going to be there,” Matwyshyn continued. Along with that, the U.S. would also fall behind in the very industries where it led the internet revolution, she warned.


Read the Knowledge@Wharton article and listen to the entire podcast: “How Can the U.S. Improve Internet Security, Speed and Access?


Andrea Matwyshyn is currently a professor of law/professor of computer science (by courtesy) and co-director of the law school’s Center for Law, Innovation, and Creativity (CLIC) at Northeastern University. She is also a faculty affiliate of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a visiting research collaborator at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. Professor Matwyshyn studies technology innovation and its legal implications, particularly corporate information security regulation and consumer privacy.


Kevin Werbach is an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He is a leading expert on the business, policy, and social implications of emerging Internet and communications technologies. Professor Werbach is also the founder of the Supernova Group, a technology analysis and consulting firm.