Why the internet is the new Wild West

Melancholic photo of old town.

It’s 8pm on a Saturday night and the phone rings. No it’s not your mate calling you to go out partying, or the girl you fancy finally returning your calls… Instead, it’s a client frantically stressing that their website is down. You reassure him that everything is going to be ok but the reality is, you’re having a good time out on the town, far far away from any of the tools you need to diagnose the problem.

What I just described isn’t an anomaly but a regular occurrence in a digital agency. We operate in an industry that requires the internet to live and prosper – the emails we send out, activations we run, and of course the websites we manage, are all operating in critical time. When an e-commerce site goes down it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, and with activations, more often than not they only run for a couple days or coincide with the timing of another event, so any downtime is bad.

On the surface this may seem like negligence – ­it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that poor workmanship is the cause. But the truth is, the problem isn’t as simple as it seems. Let me elaborate on my aforementioned scenario…

Upon further investigation we find that the reason why the client’s website is down is because they were the victim of a malicious cyber attack. Someone was intentionally sending traffic to the website with the aim of bringing it down. Going to the authorities wasn’t really an option because we didn’t know who was attacking and even if we did, which authority would we go to? The attacker may be a kid halfway across the world doing everything out of boredom.­

Welcome to the World Wide Web, or as I like to call it, the Wild Wild West. Where anything goes, and what you can and can’t legally do is all in the greys. As advertisers we use the tools available to us to get the best results – sometimes by any means possible. As disruptive technologists we have the power to take the law into our own hands à la John Wayne; maybe a more appropriate modern day reference would be hacktivist group Anonymous. We operate in an industry that has been around hundreds of years, but the method and delivery of our message is brand new,­ the digital world is a space that evolves and changes every second and the policies that govern it are murky. When the law doesn't protect you it's easy to feel you have no choice but to act on your own accord.

This is a new but burgeoning issue for our agency, one I believe will be important for businesses and governments alike to tackle sooner rather than later. For S1T2, I attribute the cause to three key factors:

1. The agency is growing

We’ve been operating for over five years now and as we grow, we’re dealing with higher profile clients with more competitors aka enemies. These large clients don’t just pay us more because they can afford it, they require more attention across their marketing channels including their digital needs.

While a mom and pop store may get a bit of trouble from the local school kids, the clients we deal with now are multibillion dollar organisations that operate in a global market, ­it’s very easy to unintentionally piss someone off when you have millions of customers. Cyber attacks are real threats to these companies and the need for online security will only increase as use of the web continues to become more prevalent.

2. Legislation can’t keep up

I’m not even thirty yet and the two of the largest companies in the world were created and popularised in my short lifetime: Facebook launched in 2004, while Google started in 1998. The rate in which the internet is evolving is phenomenal and it is difficult for the law to keep up. It’s almost impossible to write a policy that encompasses everything so the law surrounding the internet is intentionally broad.

Furthermore, innovators of the cyber era tend to push forward without thought of consequence, hence the growth in so many disruptive technologies that are challenging the way we think and act such as Uber, 3D printing, geonomics, crowdsourcing, and much more. Until we find a better way to govern the internet there will always be bad people that will try to take advantage of this.

3. Continuous innovation

Part of our company culture encourages working with new technologies, and as a result, more often than not the problems we face are unique and undocumented. As we create bigger and more exciting projects for clients we’re finding there is a greater potential for bugs and unforeseen issues.

Part of the problem is alleviated by improving our planning and process, as well as the experiences gained from projects of the past, but even so, nowadays we find ourselves putting aside as much time to testing as we are to the initial development phases. Quality assurance is a big deal and we will always endeavour to improve this side of our business while continuing to embrace innovation.

Brands that operate in the digital world will always want to have 100% uptime, but this comes at a cost that businesses have to expect and accept. We chose this wonderful space to play in with all it’s innovations, gadgets and gizmos, but in doing so we also have to recognise the threats that come with. The lack of governance, the demands of innovation and the power of the masses, these are all factors that make it almost impossible to have a bulletproof website at a cost that’s feasible. The challenge will be to prepare ourselves for a future that we don’t quite know what it is.

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