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It's a great time to be a software technologist

Column Foiling NSA surveillance will take a lot of work
Fri Dec 27 2013, 10:30

ON THE THRESHOLD OF 2014, it's a great time to be a software technologist.

The global PC market might be in decline, but that's only because the personal computers people are buying aren't just desktop and notebook PCs anymore. Now they include media PCs, games consoles, smartphones, tablets, smartphones the size of tablets called phablets and hybrid convertable laptop/tablet devices. Overall, the global computer market continues to grow.

The internet is still growing, evolving and maturing, and is continuing to drive innovation in both hardware and software technologies while spawning new industries and valuable companies building innovative new services, more internet infrastructure and vast server farms for cloud services.

Although the traditional PC companies such as Dell and HP are facing declining revenues and even Intel's x86 processor revenues are flat, ARM processor makers and nimble mobile device makers are booking profits. Internet infrastructure and data centre management and all kinds of software development are continuing to grow, even in a lingering recession.

Software development activity is going to start ramping up sharply in 2014, I predict, primarily but not exclusively due to a new factor that entered the consciousness of the IT industry in 2013.

That factor is the realisation that governments are conducting sweeping surveillance of all internet and phone communications, as exposed by Edward Snowden's revelations. This implicated the US National Security Agency (NSA) programmes, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK as well as sister agencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand – collectively known as the Five Eyes – and arguably the intelligence agencies of other countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

A couple of weeks ago, a US District Court judge in Washington declared that mass NSA surveillance is likely unconstitutional. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have also filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of NSA mass surveillance. However, that recent ruling, and these and other lawsuits, after they are eventually heard, almost certainly will be appealed, and could take several years to reach final decisions.

In addition, a number of major internet firms have asked the US government to rein in NSA surveillance, and while it's uncertain whether this request or their subsequent lobbying in the US Congress will have any effect, it seems highly unlikely that it will. The US national security industrial complex is large and powerful, and it will use all of its influence to maintain and extend its baleful glare.

Therefore, the internet community of companies, organisations and individual developers apparently is going to have to develop software defences against overreaching government surveillance and interference. Doing that will involve agreeing on new standards, methods, tools and procedures, and then building the software required to keep the spooks at bay. Strong encryption will become the default for internet and phone communications, but that is going to require significant resources to design, develop, install, manage and maintain the more complex software and systems that will be needed.

That's why I believe that the future of the IT industry is bright and it's a great time to be a software technologist. Rebuilding the internet to keep government security agencies in their places promises to be just as full of opportunity as building it was initially.

In a conference presentation earlier this year, shown below, Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure explained the impact of NSA surveillance on internet security, and called for the internet community to devise and implement stronger security measures. That is already starting to happen and I believe it will only accelerate in 2014. It's going to take a lot of software development and IT management work over the next few years, because the spectre of shadowy government surveillance of the internet isn't going to simply disappear. µ


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