Keeping the internet safe may sometimes feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole, reacting to attacks as they arise, then moving on to the next. In reality, though, it’s an ongoing process that involves not just identifying threats but grabbing and retaining control of the infrastructure behind them. For years a small nonprofit called Shadowserver has quietly carried out a surprisingly large portion of that work. But now the organization faces permanent extinction in a matter of weeks.
There’s a pivotal scene in Ghostbusters in which Environmental Protection Agency inspector Walter Peck marches into the group’s headquarters, armed with a cease and desist order. “Shut this off,” Peck tells the utility worker accompanying him. “Shut this all off.” They cut power to the Ghostbusters’ protection grid, and all the ghosts are released. Think of Shadowserver as the internet’s protection grid.