Back to the future past | SC Media

Back to the future past

November 20, 2008
The web, you see, is connectionless at bottom. I’m not referring to protocols, for those of you technically bent.

What I mean, in a non-engineering way, is that in the old days (say about the time of Alexander Graham Bell), to have your device connect to another person’s, you had to physically hook wires to it, generally by way of young women sitting at a wall of jack fields. That, by the way, led to a prediction that eventually we would run out of people to sit in central offices and shove plugs into jacks.

That notion evolved – I’m skipping forward rapidly – to massive computers in central offices doing the plug shoving (at least virtually). That era was called the circuit-switched era (I just coined an era!).

Then, of course, we entered the era of packet switching (skipping even more). In this era, the destination device is connected (virtually) not by wires and plugs, but by way of little packets that contain destination addresses. All these little packets find their own way to their destination. They are trusted to get there safely and without modification.

Which leads to my latest theory (file this under Harebrained, Latest): Packet switching causes the security problems inherent with the internet.

I know, I know -- nothing is that simple. But when you have a system that can be used to intercept, modify, or connive readily, you will find people who intercept, modify and connive. If you can anonymously change, or spoof, a few packets instead of running drugs, heisting banks, or doping horses, crime will pay.

When the internet first started to actually work, it worked because the people building it trusted one another. That is, when you sent your personal information, Social Security number, bank account numbers, and children’s ages, the guy at the other end just figured it was test data, or that you were terribly confused, or both. They typically did not use the info to open bogus credit cards, drain your bank account, or kidnap your kids.

How things change!

Maybe a circuit-switched network was no safer, and there may be no causal link between an open, trusted model of networking and cybercrime, but it would likely be safer to run transactions on the Graham Bell, “Watson, come here” model.

Of course, it would be inefficient, expensive, and very near impossible to maintain. And life would be dull without what the internet has evolved to.

But the idea of talking to someone and otherwise exchanging information without worrying about devastating financial loss lurking behind every link is blissful.

When that universe opens up, let me know.
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