How Resilient is the Internet? - Securing the Internet's Future
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Though the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack, it is currently functioning under a load it wasn't designed for. It is suffering under the weight of spammers, hackers, phishers, mobile gadgets, interactive multimedia applications and a variety of Internet-enabled devices - including phones, cars, home appliances and radio frequency identification tags (RFID). While many professionals are working hard to eliminate the problems posed by spammers, hackers, and phishers, not all of the new traffic on the Internet is malicious. But given that the Internet was originally designed with the idea that users were immobile and connected to the Internet via wires, the wireless mobility afforded by many new Internet-enabled devices has increased complexity to a level that some believe the net cannot support.
We can't actually start from scratch, but some people are doing research that could change the face of the Internet. The National Science Foundation is investing $300 million to $400 million in building something called the Global Environment for Networking Innovation. Computerworld reported that GENI "will be a giant test laboratory stretching across the U.S., complete with wired and wireless computers, routers, switches, management software and subnets of wireless, cellular, sensor and radio devices. It will include a fiber-optic backbone and tail circuits to some 200 universities."
Those who want to test their ideas will be able to contract for a slice of GENI. Users will be able to trial any sort of networking idea. After these ideas are tested out, researchers might find a way to implement the promising ones onto the Internet we already have. Allison Mankin, a co-manager of GENI, points out one reason why the way we have done things so far, with incremental improvement, is no longer enough: "people have actually proven that it's impossible to prevent denial-of-service attacks with the current Internet. If you want to build a network without denial of service, you have to start over."
Building a new network, or even changing the current one, runs into some interesting issues. Robert Kahn, co-inventor of TCP/IP, noted that "The reason we don't have security in the current Internet isn't solely a technical matter." What is spam? What is pornography? We may think we know, but that may change depending on who is viewing it. So when you try to introduce a technical solution, you will inevitably run into concerns about privacy and censorship.
Even with all the hurdles, and the fact that we will probably never have a clean slate, it makes sense to try improving the Internet with this approach. There are many projects involved, some with windows as long as 15 years. We may yet see an Internet with no spam, no viruses, no Trojans, and no back doors one day.
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