Four Quadrants

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The Four Quadrants

In his article, The Fourth Quadrant, Professor Zittrain develops a four quadrant framework for thinking about the Internet. This framework looks at two criteria: (1) how generative something is, and (2) how singular it is.

The generativity of a phenomena is assessed on a scale from entirely “top-down” to entirely “bottom-up.” The range of singularity runs from “hierarchy” to “polyarchy.” This is captured in the following chart from the article:

Zittrain Four Quadrants.png

Professor Zittrain uses precise (sometimes unconventional) definitions of these terms:

  • Top-down: systems in which “there is a separation between those who make the rules and those who live under them . . . .”
  • Bottom-up: systems where the rules can come from any person without separation between the people who make the rules and people who live under them.
  • Hierarchy: “a system for which there is no alternative, either because it does not exist, because it would be too costly, or because law precludes it.”
  • Polyarchy: being able to choose between multiple regimes or systems.

To see how Professor Zittrain's definition of hierarchy differs from the lay person understanding, see Wikipedia.


This section will summarize the proposals of various cyber security authors. The next section will attempt to map these proposals onto Professor Zittrain's framework.






Wesley Clark

“Sabotaged circuits cannot be patched; they are the ultimate sleeper cell.”

General Clark's article, Securing the Information Highway, focuses on the problem of compromised hardware -- usually chips with rogue transistors built in that allow another party to gain control of a system. Clark believes this is the greatest threat for cyber security.

  • Software attacks, on the other hand, “are generally detectable, are mostly curable, and, until now, have been largely containable through the use of software patches."

Two challenges with enhancing hardware security:
1. Ensuring authenticity.
2. Detecting malevolent function inside the device.
Other problems that are making things worse:
1. Americans have a false sense of security.
2. We’re not doing anything – the longer we wait, the better adversaries will get.

Clark’s Solution:

We need to learn from the open-source community and create security standards that allow us to quickly discover and correct security flaws.

  • We “need to endow U.S. networks, software, and even hardware with a digital immune system—one that is openly described and freely discussed.”

Clark proposes a two-step approach:
1. Diversify the digital infrastructure.
  • We need more diversity in both hardware and software (operating systems) to make it harder to attack large sections at once.
2. Secure the supply chain for hardware.
  • Embed compact authentication codes directly into devices.
  • Anti-tamper safeguards after devices are produced
Note that this doesn’t mean we have to manufacture everything here – that’s a practical impossibility given the demand. We just need to ensure foreign-made products are “authentic and secure.”



Mapping Onto the Four Quadrants

Four Quadrants: Elaborated

Professor Zittrain mapped existing political systems onto his four quadrants. The result was presented in his article:

Four Quadrants Detail.png

Mapping the Proposals

Where We Think They Go

More Clear


Quadrant 1

Quadrant 2

  • Wesley Clark: Clark's proposal clearly falls in the second quadrant. His call to diversify the digital infrastructure is a polyarchical solution. Additionally, Clark intends for the government to promulgate all of these rules, which is a top-down solution.

Quadrant 3

Quadrant 4

Less Clear

Recent Developments and Future Concerns