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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Is it possible to tame the internet beast?


We still don’t know how to construct institutions to guide the evolution of the internet

THE YEAR is 1992. The internet, while still largely unknown outside its core user base, is already close to hosting a million computers. David Clark, one of the engineers who helped design the system, is giving a talk to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a loose confederation of technologists who informally compose its co-ordinating body.

He’s proud, but worried. While most of the audience have spent the past decade worrying about how to make the internet scale – that is, work just as well with 10 million hosts as it did with 10,000 – Clark has another concern. He’s worried that the organisations that created and designed the internet won’t be able to scale.

His talk is called A Cloudy Crystal Ball, but he’s given it the subtitle Apocalypse Now, and his big fear is that the internet will collapse because it can’t be secured. Clark was not the first to worry about this, and he was certainly not the last.

His most stark prediction, that the 1990s would turn into the “decade of the cyberterrorist”, did not come true. But it’s still unclear that the 2010s might not gain that as a catchy subtitle. And all of the problems that he outlined about the security of the net persist.

Is it possible to tame the internet beast?

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