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12 Trends to Watch in 2010

Electronic Frontier FoundationIt’s the dawn of a new year. From our perch on the frontier of electronic civil liberties, EFF has collected a list of a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we think will play a significant role in shaping online rights in 2010.

In December, we’ll revisit this post and see how it all worked out.

1. Attacks on Cryptography: New Avenues for Intercepting Communications

In 2010, several problems with cryptography implementations should come to the fore, showing that even encrypted communications aren’t as safe as users expect. Two of the most significant problems we expect concern cellphone security and web browser security.

GSM, the technology that underpins most cellphone communications around the world, uses a deeply flawed security technology. In 2010, devices which intercept phone calls will get cheaper and cheaper. Expect to see public demonstrations of the ability to break GSM’s encryption and intercept mobile phone calls. We hope that this will prompt the mobile phone industry to replace its obsolete systems with modern and easy-to-use cryptography.

SSL (in its newer versions known as TLS), the basic security technology of the world wide web, is exhibiting similarly severe flaws. Several powerful practical attacks against real-world SSL implementations were published in 2009; more problems and concerns will emerge throughout 2010. SSL security must be improved.

Despite flaws in how SSL is used, it’s still the best system for web security around, and so it also needs to become more widely deployed. Google set a fantastic example this week when it set GMail to use SSL by default — in 2010 we hope to see other online service providers follow its example.

2. Books and Newspapers: .TXT is the new .MP3

Since 2000, the music industry has most spectacularly flailed (and failed) to combat the Net’s effect on its business model. Their plans to sue, lock-up and lobby their way out of their problem did nothing to turn the clock back, but did cause serious damage to free speech, innovation and fair use.

These days, the book and newspaper industries are similarly mourning the Internet’s effect on their bottom line. In 2009, Rupert Murdoch changed the tone of the debate when he called those who made fair use of his papers’ content “thieves”. We think 2010 and beyond will see others in the print world attempt to force that view, and break the fair use doctrine by lobbying to change accepted copyright law, challenging it in the courts, or by placing other pressures on intermediaries.

A cluster of similar battles around user control are also gathering around e-reader products like Kindle and Google Book Search, many of which rewrite the rules for book ownership and privacy wholesale.

So, in 2010, will the printed word step smartly into the digital future, or will it continue to stay stuck in the denial and bargaining phase that dominated digital music’s lost decade?

3. Global Internet Censorship: The Battle for Legitimacy

For years, the obvious benefits of an uncensored Internet have kept advocates of Net blocking on the defensive. But new filtering initiatives in Australia and Europe combined with growing rhetoric around child protection, cybersecurity and IP enforcement means that blocking websites isn’t just for authoritarian regimes any more.

That’s not to say tyrants aren’t paying close attention to the West’s new censors. When democratic governments complain about Iran and China’s net policing in 2010, expect defenses of “we’re only doing what everyone else does”.

2010 will see the publication of Access Controlled, a new book from the OpenNet Initiative chronicling the globalization of Internet censorship; we’re excited to see it but concerned about the ways restrictions in different countries reinforce each other.

4. Hardware Hacking: Opening Closed Platforms and Devices
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