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Tech by VICE

A Warning About the "Dark Side" of the Web from the Birthplace of the Web

h5. CERN's computer storage facility On August 8, 1989, someone published a web page at "http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html":http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. It was...

by Brian Anderson
Aug 8 2011, 7:06pm
CERN’s computer storage facility

On August 8, 1989, someone published a web page at http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. It was the first web page.

Exactly twenty years later, CERN's Computer Security Team – responsible for looking after what is now one of the largest networks in the world – shot off a memo that Tim Berners-Lee probably didn’t imagine when he envisioned an open, collaborative system for sharing the sort of information that could rewire our understanding of the universe: the missive warns staff to lockdown their smart phones for fear of malware, cyber attack or old-fashioned thievery.

"We don't want to ’cry wolf" here," the memo states, "but you should be aware that the shiny world of iPhones and Androids has a dark side, too. Thus, beware!" It goes on to warn against bogus apps that pinch private information – "your mail, music, photos, credentials" – or auto-dial far-away or expensive phone numbers. Those looking to "roam around incognito" are urged to switch off any geo-location systems, with the understanding that unique tokens may still beam out coordinates to app companies.

It's a bit jarring to find those using the world's most gargantuan, sophisticated, expensive machines to crack the most profound questions of the universe instructed to just exercise a little common sense: lock your phone with a PIN to secure from theft; back up your mobile device frequently; know how to wipe your phone remotely should it get lost or stolen; "check what permissions" apps ask for; and "if in doubt, don't install."

Then again, the Web's birthing ground is a sort of hacker Mecca, under constant bombardment by those looking to access CERN's massive servers and networks in hopes of making off with data for probably nothing more than a quick thrill.

In spite of the constant barrage of news about compromised data, according to a contact at CERN, there’s no word yet on whether any specific incident prompted the warning. More likely CERN is looking to ward off future offenses, as it's not uncommon for the lab to issue data safety memos every few months.

In other words, the creators of the World Wide Web cares a lot about protecting our information. And no, the Earth is still not going to be devoured by tiny black holes created by the Large Hadron Collider.