As I’m sure you’re aware, on Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted to repeal net neutrality rules. What you might not be aware of is what this actually means, how it will affect you and whether your privacy will still be protected.
First, let’s talk about what “net neutrality” is in a nutshell. In 2015, the FCC elected to regulate high-speed internet access just like any other public utility — like phone service, for example. This meant that internet service providers (ISPs) — the businesses that connect people to the internet — had to treat all data on the internet the same.
It was illegal to charge customers more for certain content or faster service. ISPs were also prohibited from blocking or slowing access to company websites that could not pay as much as say, Google or Amazon. In other words, all internet traffic was treated equally both coming and going.
All that changed last month.
Have You Been Getting What You Paid For?
One of the most well-known violations of net neutrality occurred in rural North Carolina in 2004. Madison River Communications, an internet provider in the area, began blocking a popular voiceover IP (VOIP) called Vonage. Vonage is essentially a telephone service that operates through the internet.
Well, Madison River Communications was also a provider of landline telephone service for the area. The company was not a fan of the competition and wanted to block their customers from using the less expensive Vonage.
Obviously, Vonage wasn’t very happy about this. The company filed a complaint with the FCC, which began an investigation. As a result of the FCC’s findings, Madison River Communications was fined $15,000 and ordered to stop blocking any online services or traffic.
Since then, many other internet providers have been accused of blocking or slowing the speeds for certain websites and applications, including…
- Comcast — In 2005, Comcast upset its customers by blocking or slowing file-sharing applications like BitTorrent and Gnutella
- AT&T — Similar to the Madison River case in North Carolina, from 2007–09 AT&T restricted the use of competing VOIP services like Skype and Google Voice for its Apple customers
- MetroPCS — In 2011, MetroPCS customers were informed that all streaming video services besides YouTube would be blocked from their 4G network
- AT&T, Sprint and Verizon — Three of the largest mobile networks prohibited customers from using Google Wallet from 2011–13 after they launched a competing mobile-payment system
- Verizon — In 2012, the FCC discovered Verizon Wireless was preventing people from using tethering apps to convert their smartphones into mobile hot spots
- AT&T — The same year, this mobile giant announced it would require iPhone users to purchase a more expensive phone plan in order to use features like FaceTime on their devices…
Just to name a few.
Each time the FCC uncovered one of these offenses, they would investigate and take action. However, now that the net neutrality policy has been repealed, they lack the authority to stop ISPs from restricting customers’ internet activity or gouging them for using certain applications or visiting certain websites.
Which means we could be in for some major changes.
Companies May Restrict Your Ability to Protect Your Privacy
Before you panic, you need to understand that any changes made by internet service providers won’t occur overnight. It’s also difficult to say exactly what those changes will be.
Here’s the thing: If an internet provider wanted to charge a higher premium for access to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter or video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, I bet most people would pay it.
And while it may be disappointing if you can’t stream your favorite Netflix show or use your go-to app without shelling out a few extra bucks, the scary fact is this change could have major cybersecurity implications as well. Because the truth is providers can now start interfering with content, which will eventually affect everyone.
Perhaps the biggest way this repeal affects your security is that internet service providers could block encryption. They may require all data that pass through their network be decrypted. Then they could use this information for data mining and targeted advertisements.
What’s more, they could potentially have access to personal information. Just imagine the security threat it would create if individuals or companies that handle confidential material couldn’t encrypt sensitive information.
It Gets Worse…
How would you like it if your internet provider was able to track what websites you visit?
You’ve heard me mention many times before how critical it is to use a virtual private network (VPN) when you surf the internet. Well, your internet provider could very well decide to charge you $100 dollars a month — or more — to be able to use your VPN service. What if you can’t afford that kind of monthly expense? Too bad.
The internet is already rampant with hackers trying to perpetrate cyberattacks and fraud, but this would increase even more if you were no longer allowed to protect your personal information and internet habits with a VPN.
If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some providers offer a “premium” service that allows you to use a VPN on their network — then charge out the nose for it.
Another potential issue would be the fact that every single internet service provider could come up with different rules and limitations. For instance, one provider might charge more for access to Facebook while another provider charges more to use LinkedIn.
Or what if Comcast provides internet at your home, but your office uses Verizon? How will your devices adjust? If you use an internet program like Google Docs so you can work from anywhere, you may suddenly find that you don’t have access to it everywhere.
I realize these are just hypothetical examples, but my point is the recent changes to net neutrality could lead to major headaches and glaring vulnerabilities for many people.
These security threats may not be a priority now, but in the next few years as internet service providers start regulating their services differently, we may have to deal with some serious security risks.
Editor, Spy & Survival Briefing