Facebook, Google fight blocking India’s poor from world wide web

In April of last year, Sir Tim Berners-Lees World Wide Web Foundation filed comments with Indias telecom regulator arguing that Facebooks zero-rating plan was a short-term gain that wasnt worth the long-term cost to the country. The Foundation explained that zero-rating is counter to its vision for all of the people to have access to all of the internet, all of the time.

Like Sir Berners-Lee, other US Net neutrality activists have also directed their moral outrage, public relations expertise and funding to attack Facebooks zero-rating initiatives both in India and the US.

With all of the high moral dudgeonbeing batted around, it is worthwhile to step back and look at whatis fueling this worldwide uprising. Simply put, zero-rating is one side of a global race among US-based internet companies to get five billion eyeballs not yet online using their services as fast as possible. In other words, it is about business.

In this regard, the US Net neutrality priesthood is largely correct that Facebooks Free Basics isnt entirely altruistic by not counting access to Facebook against a Free Basics users data allowance, Facebook gets first dibs on those eyeballs in a way, that say, Google cant.

But the effort to kill zero-rating is not entirely altruistic either. Theres something else at play as well: Whats good for Facebook is bad for another SiliconValley company (cough, cough Google). Remember, if Facebook grabs those eyeballs first, Google is shut out from being the first entry point or gateway for billions of new internet users. In fact, Free Basics doesnt even offer Google as one of its zero-rated websites. Google, for its part, is executing its own strategy, experimenting with delivering access through giant balloons and tiny satellites while littering the globe with sub-$30 smartphones running its Android software and pre-loaded with Google products and services.

An interesting analysis finds that the most vocal anti zero-rating internet elites in the US academics, venture capitalists and technology leaders claim common cause with the global poor, and dismiss zero-rating plans like Free Basics as malignant, walled gardens, a violation of free speech,or even a geniusly evil world domination scheme.

These individuals also largely residein the top median income zip codes in the US, communities in which the median income is on average 60 times that of the typical incomein a country like India. Walled gardens indeed.

But a deeper analysis finds somethingeven more interesting. Six of the twelve leading anti zero-rating activists have received funding from a Facebook competitorhellip;Google! either directly to them or through the organisations they represent.

This same cast of characters who argued that strong Net neutrality rules are necessary to keep the US internet free and open so more Americans can get online are the ones now insisting that Net neutralitys free and open doesnt really mean free or open for Indias disconnected. Instead, they argue that its better for the internet if Indias impoverished and disconnected simply do without than transgress their Silicon Valley paymasters global ambitions.

Those caterwauling the loudest that offering anything less than full access to the Internet is poor Internet for poor people are being highly disingenuous. After all, ideological purity is easy when it costs you nothing. Its akin to a debate among the well fed about whether the starving should be given soup that isnt organically sourced.

So, the next time you hear the Net neutrality priesthood decry zero-rating, it might be helpful to think to yourself, to paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them eatcode.

Jerri Ann Henry is public advocate for Protect Internet Freedom, a grassroots, nonprofit organisation of 1.6 million supporters dedicated to defending a truly free and open internet

A Brief History of The World Wide Web

Englishman Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee is credited as being the founder of the World Wide Web, and the first steps towards the Internet age began in 1980. In that year, Berners-Lee began to experiment with hypertext, when building ENQUIRE for CERN in Switzerland. ENQUIRE was designed to be a personal database, but it was also significant because every new page needed to be reached by a link on an already created page.

The Birth Of The World Wide Web

After leaving CERN at the end of 1980, Berners-Lee returned to the organisation four years later. In 1984, Berners-Lee identified a problem regarding sharing data at CERN. He then addressed the problem by arranging for the installation of TCP/IP protocols on the relevant machines at the organisation. With CERN boasting the biggest Internet site in Europe by the end of the 1980s, Berners-Lee was then ready to take things a step further.

In the March of 1989, Berners-Lee put forward his plan for a large hypertext database, that would rely on being effective via typed links. Though his idea failed to get much of a positive reaction generally, Berners-Lee received important support from Mike Sendall, who was Berners-Lees boss at the time. Sendall decided to utilise a NeXT workstation to incorporate Berners-Lees system, and though a number of different names were considered, eventually it was decided that the World Wide Web was the most appropriate. It could so easily have been called The Information Mine, which was one of the other names considered.

Pioneers Cailliau And Pellow

The 1990s was really the decade that saw the birth of the Internet as we know it today. While Robert Cailliau became another key figure in the success of the World Wide Web, as the Belgian computer scientist was a strong supporter of Berners-Lees ideas. The pair also tried to convince people of the possibilities of the World Wide Web, but again interest was lacking. Cailliau designed the very first Web browser with Nicola Pellow, and Pellow was to become the most important female figure in the early days of the Web.

The Web Goes Truly Global

Everything was in place for an efficient World Wide Web by the end of 1990, including HTTP, HTML, the first Web browser, Web server and HTTP server software. In January, 1991 the World Wide Web outside of CERN began previously all Web servers had been within that organisation.

Early web pages were plain text affairs, and one of the earliest web pages still in existence was sent by Berners-Lee to Paul Jones, who was at a university in North Carolina at the time. Usenet newsgroups existed, and transference of files through FTP was possible back in 1991.

Internet speeds were not really a concern back in 1991 either, as text dominated. Now, because of fibre optic broadband, its possible to download massive audio and video files very quickly and watch TV and videos online, without having to worry about the picture freezing!

WORLD WIDE WEB Twitter Moves To Actively Seek Out Terrorist Supporters

Twitter is now using spam-fighting technology to seek out accounts that might be promoting terrorist activity and is examining other accounts related to those flagged for possible removal, the company announced Friday.

The announcement demonstrated efforts by Twitter to automatically identify tweets supporting terrorism, reflecting increased pressure placed by the US government for social media companies to respond to abuse more proactively. Child pornography has previously been the only abuse that was automatically flagged for human review on social media, using a different kind of technology that sources a database of known images.

Twitter also said Friday it has suspended more than 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts, mainly related to Islamic State militants, in the last eight months. Social media has increasingly become a tool for recruitment and radicalization thats used by the Islamic State group and its supporters, who by some reports have sent tens of thousands of tweets per day.

Tech companies are dedicating increasingly more resources to tracking reports of violent threats. Twitter said Friday that it has increased the size of its team reviewing reports to reduce their response time significantly. The San Francisco-based company also changed its policy in April, adding language to make clear that threatening or promoting terrorism specifically counted as abusive behavior and violated its terms of use.

The White House on Friday said Twitters announcement was very much welcome.

The administration is committed to taking every action possible to confront and interdict terrorist activities wherever they may occur, including in cyberspace, and we welcome constructive steps from our private sector partners, the White House said.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called it a very positive development.

In January, the White House made good on President Barack Obamas promise to reach out to Silicon Valley to tackle the use of social media by violent extremist groups. Those particularly include the Islamic State group, which inspired attackers who killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, last December.

A post on one of the killers Facebook pages that appeared around the time of the attack included a pledge of allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State group.

Facebook found the post — which was under an alias — the day after the attack. The company removed the profile from public view and informed law enforcement. But such a proactive effort is fairly uncommon.

The Obama administration sent several top officials to San Jose, California, including FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.

Among issues discussed was how to use technology to help speed the identification of terrorist content, according to a copy of the White House briefing memo obtained by The Associated Press.

We recognize that identifying terrorist content that violates terms of service is far more difficult than identifying images of child pornography, but is there a way to use technology to quickly identify terrorist content? For example, are there technologies used for the prevention of spam that could be useful? the memo stated.

Since late 2015, Twitter began using proprietary spam-fighting tools to find accounts that might be violating their terms of service by promoting terrorism, sending them to be reviewed by a team at Twitter. That group also now looks into other accounts similar to those reported to them by other users.

Twitter said it has already had seen results, including an increase in account suspensions and this type of activity shifting off of Twitter.

But it also noted that there is no magic algorithm for identifying terrorist content, which is why even humans reviewing the material are ultimately making judgment calls based on very limited information and guidance. Free speech and local law in an area can also complicate matters.

Like most people around the world, we are horrified by the atrocities perpetrated by extremist groups. We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism, Twitter said in a statement released Friday. It said it would continue to engage with authorities and other relevant organizations to find solutions to this critical issue and promote powerful counter-speech narratives.

Birthplace of the World Wide Web CERN Launches home.cern

As many internet industry participants would be aware, the development of the World Wide Web is attributed to a project team at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, commonly known as CERN.

CERN, one of the worlds largest and most respected centres for scientific research, is a leader in technological development and the furthering of our collective understanding of science and technology.

I think its incredibly fitting to see the birthplace of the World Wide Web join the latest evolution of Internet innovation, launching its new .brand domain name www.home.cern in recent weeks. The introduction of a new TLD is a perfect match for an organisation whose reputation and history are based on a foundation of innovation and disruption.

However, there is another aspect of this rollout that is of interest to those who, like me, are intricately involved in the development of .brands and their strategies.

Like Barclays Bank whose launch of the .barclays TLD has been one of the most publicised and successful .brand launches to date CERN has chosen to use the home.brand naming structure for the home page within the .cern extension.

In fact, of the brands delegated so far, already 36 have created a home.brand domain, indicating a strong movement towards using the home label as the global standard for the home page. Weve even seen the creation of maison.brand (home in French) by a largely French-speaking organisation.

Understandably this is new territory for major brands, so strategies for rolling out and using .brands will vary between organisations, but it also stands to reason that following a successful example is a good way to gain greater predictability in this process. With the example of www.home.barclays and www.home.cern to follow, this trend shows a degree of standardisation in naming is already beginning to become established and it will be vital for other .brands to fall in line for the future success of .brands.

Naming structure risks

.brands play a fantastic role in giving brands greater freedom to be creative with their campaign and promotional websites, such as in the case of www.assistmoneypenny.sony and www.somethingincommon.mango. These domains can be innovative, catchy and inventive as brands have the ability to register whatever phrase they wish.

However for the fundamental aspects of a major brands website (such as contact info and customer portals), getting creative with your domain name registrations can be risky, as the user has to work harder to remember where to find you. Major brands know that user experience is vital to their business the more seamless and simple it is to access a website, the more likely customers will be to stay, return or make a purchase.

For this reason, establishing standards in the implementation of .brands for example, the consistent use of home.brand as the primary home page allows users to develop some familiarity in the process of accessing .brand websites.

To illustrate, initially any user typing www.home.barclays would have been redirected to www.barclays.com as the organisation sought to trial the concept before diving in head-first. Other brands are following this technique for example, Microsoft has done this with a range of their TLDs such as home.xbox, home.microsoft and home.skype which all forward to their existing .com domains.

However, CERN appear to have dived right in, with www.home.cern already appearing as CERNs primary site and any customer typing in the traditional used www.cern.ch automatically redirected to www.home.cern in the browser.

It will be interesting to see when brands like Microsoft make the switch to their .brand, but in the meanwhile it is positive to see brands already training their visitors that accessing a .brand does work, and will get them to the information they need.

In the long term, if Internet users know that for most brands they can just type in home.brand and find what they need, it will strengthen the value of .brands and allow them to really begin disrupting the search-centric world of digital marketing.

In the meantime, bravo CERN you are paving the way once more!

By Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services at Neustar

Related topics: Top-Level Domains, Web

Celebrating 25 years of the World Wide Web: don’t miss these blogs and websites

During most of 1991, only one website existed in the world – now its believed there are over 1 billion.

Amid this confusing jumble of the first class, the mediocre and the rubbish, it can be hard to find the sites that are worthwhile, so heres a selection of great websites and blogs to mark the first 25 years of the World Wide Web.

NEWS: Ezra Klein set up his Vox website in 2014, but this year looks set to be the most exciting phase for the site, which aims at explaining the news. Vox uses explanatory articles, videos, maps and card stacks to make complex world events understandable.

It should be particularly useful during the upcoming US presidential election. Klein is part of a trend among American journalists to eschew newspaper careers in favour of internet start-ups – another is Nate Silver and his acclaimed blog FiveThirtyEight.

HACKERS: The virtual battle against malicious hackers seems unending. Often the victim finds out too late or not at all that theyve suffered an attack. Thats where the website Have I been Pwned? comes in useful.

On it users can check whether their email address or username have been compromised in a data breach.

OFFICE: For many employees, the words lovable and office are mutually exclusive.

But startups and companies like Google and Facebook dont see it that way. Check out the website OfficeLovin which features photos of the chic, modern offices of such companies, including exclusive photos of the offices of review portal Yelp and music service Spotify.

TRAVEL: Even though the hipster label is likely to aggravate many travellers, the blog of a self-styled hipster seems to have hit the mark. Travels of Adam records the trips of a Berlin-based graphic designer from Boston to the beautiful, exciting and hip places that are off the beaten tourist track.

Whether in Europe, Tel Aviv, Haiti or the US, the blog looks at the coolest things to do and see around the world.

DRAWING: The internet has made it possible for people around the world to bring their comics, sketches and illustrated stories to a wide audience. On the Sketchbook Project website, the work of almost 34,000 artists from more than 135 countries is available for viewing.

FITNESS: Cardio, Core, Pilates, HIIT – anyone entering the fitness world for the first time or after a long break will be confronted by a plethora of confusing terms and acronyms. Booya Fitness works under the motto Every type of fitness class you can imagine.

It offers home training via digital videos. The first 30 days are free and after that you have to pay around 9 euros (10 dollars) a month.

ANIMALS: When Im around toilet paper I lose control, the caption says on the picture of a three-month-old puppy looking sheepishly at the camera. Another shows a young husky sitting amid broken plastic with the caption I bathed and then destroyed the tub!

These pictures can be found on Dog Shaming, where owners post pictures of their mischievous, destructive canines alongside admissions of guilt.

DINING: The New York Times, the newspaper known for its news gathering skills, in-depth analysis and liberal attitude, is now also known for its cooking recipes. Since the paper launched its Cooking platform in 2014, it has gathered more than 17,000 tasty recipes.

DIY: A pair of boxer shorts made out of old pillowcases or a chair made out of crutches and bike parts? Or a wheelchair for a dog with injured back legs? There are no barriers to the do-it-yourself projects posted by tinkerers and hobbyists on Instructables.

Step by step they explain how, for example, to build an igloo from powdery snow or furniture parts from old cardboard.

By Johannes Schmitt-Tegge

Building the World Wide (mind)Web

The Advaita-Vedanta School of Indian philosophy posits that every sentient mind is interconnected as a part of a universal consciousness. Mapped into modern technology, this could be viewed as the biological equivalent of the World Wide Web consisting of computers connected over the internet. The web that we see today had its genesis with the Ethernet, invented in 1973 and TCP/IP adopted in 1983. How far away are we from a similar network of minds?

Predicting Browsers Becoming an Operating System Platform

In the book,Fire in the Valley, covering the history of the development of the PC (which I’m still reading for the first time… I’m down to the last couple of chapters in the 2nd Ed), towards the end of the book, discussing The Browser Wars, there’s an interesting passing comment aboutBob Metcalfe and web browsers. I’m not sure if this was a direct quote from Metcalfe or just dramatization based on known facts, but there’s a passing notethat Metcalfe commented that the web browser would become the operating system platform of the future (my paraphrasing).

Metcalfe has made a number of predictions in the past that turned out to be far from the mark, including the prediction in his column in Infoworld, Dec 4th 1995, that the internet would implode in 1996 (for more, see thissection on his Wikipedia entry).

His comment in Fire in the Valleyabout the browserbecoming the next operating system platformis far more interesting, in my opinion, than the above prediction because in early 1995 that would have been an incredibly bold and forward looking statement. Remember in 1995 we had only just seen a year of NCSA Mosaic which was launched in September 1993, and Netscape Communicator had only just beenlaunched in 1994 by Marc Andreessen and company after leaving NCSA. Searching in Google Books (awesome for tracking down quotes in archived magazines and periodicals), I think this column, from February 271995, might have been the source referenced in Fire in the Valley. This was written a few months before Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was launched in August 1995.

“At Demo 95, it became clear the Web is our next generation Operating System”

There’s some amazing IT industryhistory inthis column from21 years ago; about Microsoft Bob, Windows 95 (which was yet to launch later that year) and IBM OS/2, which ” … was demonstrated doing more things at oncethan I would ever want to do”. However the key feature of this column was commenting on the numerous demos of web browsers and web server products shown as this industry event. From 1995, here is an amazing prediction of the web-based future yet to come:

“… these former web browsers will be euphemized as operating environments or some such, and every OS will have one”

This is from a time before when Windowsincluded Internet Explorer as a pre-installed, default, application for accessing the world wide web (which later led to theanti-trust lawsuit). Continuing:

“… as their APIs mature, they will graduate-like Windows may-to becoming full-fledged OSes all by themselves… Web Browsers and servers are surely our next-generation OS”

Ignoring the possibly intentional dig at Windows becoming a full-fledged OS, the comment in 1995 that browsers might become “our next-generation OS” from the point of view of the web-enabled everything world of 2016, 21 years later, is quite amazing.

As trends have already shown in the relatively short life of the IT industry so far, these things tend to go round in circles. We’ve had centralized systems, client/server systems, and distributed systems. The first versions of web browsers, like Mosaic, had little support to do anything other than retrieve static content from a remote web server and displaythe content to the user. As cgi-bin scripts were introduced, processing to support dynamically generated content was server-side (centralized). Fast forward to more recent years however, browsers have become more capable in executing client-side functionality, to the point where it’s now a common approach to off-load logic previously executed server-side and execute it client-side in the browser, allowing systems to scale to what is now called web-scale (eg Facebook supporting 1 in 7 of the Earth’s population logging on to Facebook in a single day-yes, that’s 1 billion people).

If today you were to ask if we have already reachedthe point Metcalfe was predicting where the browser has become a common operating system platform, I think it depends on what aspect of computing you look at. It’s undeniable that pretty much anything and everything is available and accessible online via a browser, from checking your bank balance/paying your bills, to booking a haircut, buying groceries, and not to mention social networking (something that in its online form really had no comparison before the internet and world wide web). However, from a mobile perspective, if you think about the prevalence of apps on native platform mobile devices like Android and iOS, then the most common computing platforms of today (the majority of people access the internet from a mobile device) do still look like they are platform specific and native–not a shared common, browser-based runtime. Unknown to your average app user, however, is the fact that most apps are actually hybrid apps, using a web view to load and embed web-based content within a native app.

If you take a wider view of computer usage across all device types, desktops, laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices, then I think it would be a different picture–one where, yes, there is a common platform provided by a browser, even if it involves different browser implementations on different devices. For example, I can access my bank account via a web-based application using Safari on my Mac, using Chrome on my Android phone, or using IE on my work provided Windows laptop. If you add a Chromebook into this picture, now you’ve got a device that can only access sites and applications using a browser; it is a device that is entirely browser based, where the browser is the platform.

The Coming of Web Assembly

The main reason Metcalfe’s prediction, as mentioned in Fire in the Valley, caught my attention is because of the idea of a common browser-based platform is maybe closer than expected, and with current developments in browser technology, a whole lot better than just standardized support for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Google have had Native Client (NaCl), the ability to run platform native (as a subset of x86, ARM, or MIPS instruction) code within a sandbox in Chrome since around 2011. Platform Native Client (PNaCl) further developed the benefits of native platform performance by adding support for executing platform independent code. Development of asm.js and support in Firefox has been going on for a couple of years, even gainingsupport by Microsoft in the Edge browser on Windows 10.

WebAssembly, a W3C standard project with involvement from all the major players, Google, Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, aims to define and bring a common binary executable format to the browser. Announced by Brendan Eich back in June 2015, the idea of a common runtime is of course not new. We’ve had Java’s JVM for 20 years. We’ve had .NET’s CLR for around 15 years.While Java code can execute on any platform where you have a JVM installed, Microsoft’s .NET has been more limited to only Windows. Support for other platforms ispossible via the non-Microsoft providedopen source project Mono. Even with Java though, each browser required the manual installation of a browser plugin.

The difference in approach with WebAssembly is that if every browser already natively supports WebAssembly as an integral part of the browser, has Bob Metcalfe’s prediction of the browser being a common runtime platform already arrived?

WORLD WIDE WEB Netflix Plans Huge Global Expansion with 130 More Countries

Streaming services giant Netflix took a big step Wednesday to expand its global footprint, sending the companys share price soaring.

Against the backdrop of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings announced the Los Gatos, Calif., company had added 130 more countries to its service.

That marks a substantial increase in the size of Netflixs global network, which previously spanned 60 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, and in the Pacific. Now, Netflix has services in more than 190 countries, including Russia, India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

When we started Netflix nearly 20 years ago, we dreamed of the day when the Internet would enable us to deliver TV shows and movies to the billions of people with whom we share the planet, Hastings told the crowd during his keynote address. Today, right now, you are witnessing the birth of a global TV network.

Netflix also said that it was including Arabic, Korean and Chinese to the 17 other languages already available.

As in the US, consumers in the newly added countries who pay a monthly fee will be able to watch Netflix original series as well a library of movies and TV shows.

Netflix said it will release 31 new and returning series in 2016, in addition to 24 films and documentaries, and 30 original childrens series and a range of stand-up comedy specials. This week Netflix announced an expansion of its partnership with Glendale studio DreamWorks Animation.

With this launch, consumers around the world — from Singapore to St. Petersburg, from San Francisco to Sao Paulo — will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously — no more waiting, Hastings said.

Although investors were expecting Netflix to expand its network, the size of the expansion came as a pleasant surprise to many on Wall Street who had fretted over a slowdown in Netflixs domestic business.

Netflix Inc. shares climbed $10.02, or 9.3%, to $117.68 on Wednesday.

The shift of power in media consumption has gone from corporations and their advertisers to the user through Netflix and the Internet, wrote Brian Fitzgerald, a media analyst with Jeffries.

For Netflix, the expansion is driven by a desire to tap into a vast market for Internet television and a growing appetite among consumers to watch TV shows whenever they want, without commercials. Hastings noted that there were 3.2 billion people online in 2015, up from 400 million in 2000.

In an interview with The Times on Wednesday, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said Netflix was entering a new phase.

The whole idea of near-global penetration of this service and delivering the news cloaked in secrecy at CES, its pretty astonishing, Sarandos said. The real work starts now of creating a really great global service with Netflix … becoming more localized with additional languages, having additional payment options and increasing the local content in some of the territories. All that work is whats ahead of us starting today.

After finding success in the US with its DVD-by-mail business and now its streaming service, Netflix has increasingly turned overseas for growth opportunities. Last year, Netflix rolled out its services in Japan, Australia and Spain, among others. One country that remains out of reach is China, where Netflix faces competition from local streaming services and potential censorship issues. But Sarandos expressed optimism that Netflix would eventually crack the worlds second-largest film market.

China, well figure out, Sarandos said. Its a very dynamic situation for foreign media companies and foreign media ownership in China. Weve been at it, and well continue to work at it. The one thing I think will excite China about Netflix is it gives them the opportunity to have their stories told around the world.

Netflix also wont be available in Crimea, North Korea and Syria because of US government restrictions on American companies.
Netflix subscribers watched 12 billion hours of content globally over the last three months of 2015, an increase of 45% over the same period in 2014, Hastings said.

Netflix closed out its third quarter last year with 69.2 million streaming subscribers in more than 40 countries, including 26 million outside the US

But the company has drawn more scrutiny from investors in recent months because of slower-than-expected subscriber growth in the US The slowdown is expected to be reflected in the companys fourth-quarter results, which will be released this month.

Netflix shares dropped Monday after a downgrade from Robert W. Baird, which lowered its price target to $115.

At some point, you get big, and the growth slows, but you still continue to grow, Sarandos said of Wall Street reaction this week. Thats just an organic thing that will happen to any service in any business. We look at the US business as healthy and growing. Will it grow as fast as it did in the early days? The second 50 million is a lot tougher than the first 50 million.

TEXAS VIEW: World Wide Web is also under attack

We live in a scary world, as the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., underscored recently. Now, imagine a scenario in which foreign actors can cripple our nation’s critical infrastructure – electrical grids, data networks and air-traffic control, to name a few of the vulnerabilities – without exploding a single bomb.

The Associated Press reports that foreign hackers have wriggled their way into the networks controlling the US power grid, obtaining engineering schematics and passwords. With a few keyboard strokes, they are capable of installing malicious code that can knock out electricity service to millions of American households.

The AP cited one case involving Iranian hackers, but remote breaches involving others have occurred about a dozen times in the last decade. The government’s tendency is to keep these breaches secret. The effect is to lull Americans into a false sense of security but also to reduce public pressure to address this as the urgent threat it is.

Hackers have repeatedly proven their ability to penetrate secure government databases. In 2013, cyber criminals hacked into retail giant Target’s credit card database and put the accounts of some 40 million customers at risk. A critical-infrastructure cyber attack, by contrast, could send the nation’s electrical grid into a cascade of shutdowns capable of blacking out entire cities or states.

The website of cyber security firm Norse (map.norsecorp.com), offers a live glimpse of the international hacking war that’s already underway. In about a 20-minute span one recent afternoon, we watched as computer sites in Saskatoon, Canada, and Mersin, Turkey launched thousands of attacks on sites in California. More came from China. Still more from Russia.

Other sites were attacked in Washington State, New York, Dallas and Phoenix, to name a few. There’s no way to tell what the goal is, but hackers normally are looking for weak spots to penetrate and exploit.

Experts say the US power grid has been probed by hackers from various governments as well as the Islamic State. A Homeland Security Department report in 2012 noted 198 cyber attacks on critical US infrastructure, with 41 percent targeting the energy sector.

What to do? Experts say the cost to secure the nation’s power grid could reach $7 billion by 2020. Customers ultimately will bear those costs, which must include establishing multiple firewalls across the country to ensure that an attack on one section of the grid doesn’t prompt cascades of outages.

The government should come clean with the public about the magnitude of the threat instead of playing it down. We’ve seen what terrorists can do with guns and airplanes. The public needs to understand that this, too, is a serious and very real threat to our way of life.