The depressing future of the Internet

Summary:A brief overview of how the Internet came about: some years ago, some military boffs thought it'd be awesome if computers could talk to each other, so the US could nuke the hell out of other countries without actually being near there. A smart professor from England then came up with an idea to plug on top of the original idea, to make text and pictures appear on a screen.

A brief overview of how the Internet came about: some years ago, some military boffs thought it'd be awesome if computers could talk to each other, so the US could nuke the hell out of other countries without actually being near there. A smart professor from England then came up with an idea to plug on top of the original idea, to make text and pictures appear on a screen. Some years passed, some boring developments and company takeovers, and now we have the Internet.

historyoftheweb.png

Since then, crime has moved from the streets of our major cities to our houses, criminal masterminds (usually plain idiots actually) started stealing credit/debit card details from people, students started creating viruses to infect other people's computers - why, I still can't work out; child sex offenders used the web to cause even more ongoing pain and suffering for children and their families, emails sent out without direction promoting Viagra to anyone and everyone, and finally, people trying to attack the very heart(s) of the infrastructure to bring the whole thing crumbling down.

Over the last few weeks, there's been new research done which could manipulate the primary-core DNS servers, so hackers could take you from what you thought was www.google.com to www.somebadsite.com instead. Thankfully I don't think it's been put into practise yet, but it's still a major, if not the most major flaw/security hole to face the web today. Whatever you want to call it - it's really bloody bad.

Terrorism is essentially a "targeted attack against people or inter/national infrastructure". We've seen this in the London train bombs; hitting England's capital's underground transport network - we've seen this also when terrorists released sarin on the Tokyo subway some years ago. The Internet is an international infrastructure, and words cannot really express how bad the situation would be if the Internet fell.

Even for a computer science student, a self-taught computer geek and an intelligence analyst, these things still struggle to comprehend properly in my mind. Nevertheless, if the Internet fails or falls, crumbles or is attacked, it will have a major economic, potentially geographic, and social effect on a high proportion of the world's populations and demographics.

I am going somewhere with this one... keep on reading.

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With the state of the Internet at the moment, it's not difficult for me to think up a "Die Hard 3 4.0" scenario. It is, of course, highly unlikely, but nothing nowadays will surprise me.

With all the genius in the world, there's no doubt it's a good thing we have academics, professionals, security advisor's, governments and researchers picking out these flaws. If we didn't know about them, someone would have exploited them already. Dan Kaminsky could have easily turned to the dark side and used his knowledge for self-gain, but because he didn't, the Internet will be "safe" for a little while longer.

Where do these security problems lie? Is it the web servers? Is it the web browsers? What about the operating systems? Maybe applications are screwing around with our computers' security? Maybe the backend systems running the Internet? The problem is - all of these, and more. All it takes is a slight flaw in a browser to be exploited and your computer can be compromised, and I for one, am sick of hearing about problem after problem.

I've been thinking long and hard about this one. I can see two, maybe three possible and hypothetical outlooks to the future years.

  1. 2013: After a series of DNS exploits and after IPv6 was cracked, the Internet became flooded with spam, malware, security bugs and problems floating around, that either people stopped using it for anything "secure"; shopping, banking, and downloading email - even the online pornography industry failed. Windows 7 failed to protect computers, just as malware became cleverer and smarter, with viruses being embedded in the bottom of mugs and being transferred to Microsoft Surface tables when placed on them.
  2. 2013: The Internet went through a massive clean-up 2 years ago after confidence in using the web was causing the global credit crunch (not the breakfast cereal). Governments and the G9 (India finally joined) collected together and funded a central agency in Europe, which regulates and polices the entire web, just as police do on the streets. The Internet is now secure, crime is nipped in the bud, and with the occasional civil liberty lost in the process, people can now browse in privacy and comfort, without worrying about crime or security issues.
  3. 2013: After Windows was phased out, Microsoft created a new operating system, founded on Singularity back in 2007/8. This made the overall infrastructure of each individual node (each computer) on the Internet more secure. However, Government's worldwide never addressed the issue of the backend security and stability. So although most computers around the web are more secure, it's only a matter of time before these new systems are attacked with new code. The situation nowadays is very similar to the last decade; still major problems, but the mass intensity and complex nature of the system makes it near impossible to resolve.

If I was of a somewhat paranoid disposition, I'd be more worried panicking screaming from the rooftops to run for the hills concerned. To try and make sense of this, get some student perspective but also to calm ones fears, I asked two of my friends. First up is my close friend and University of Kent colleague, Dan Wood, who's been in a podcast before, and a opinionated git geek when it comes to these things:

"I don't think the future of the Internet is depressing at all. For every security flaw there is a fix. As I see it, there are two problems currently facing the Internet; the first is net neutrality, which will be a key battleground over the next ten years. Eventually the net will go back to being neutral, but in the meantime there will be some problems for users not being able to access all Internet content.

The second problem is the second dotcom bubble, which is under increasing pressure during the current economic climate. However, if it does burst, the Internet will eventually recover from this too. Its a long game. Internet problems might look bad right now, but in 10 years, they will be ancient history."

So, he completely disagrees, but he certainly has a point. From another point of view, I spoke once again to Bryant Zadegan, VCCS student, about his views of the future of the Internet and how it'll affect students:

"At the moment, I've got bigger worries. IPv6 adoption is ridiculously slow, at least in the United States. IPv4 has 232[4,294,967,296: just over 4 billion] unique addresses, and an even smaller number of available addresses. If IPv6 adoption doesn't pick up, you'll start seeing ISPs no longer providing unique IP addresses to home users connecting to the web and instead pushing them through NAT.

Universities need to adopt IPv6 on their networks just to give IT and computer science students enough exposure on what's coming up. Students in any subject need exposure to it so that the Internet doesn't become less alien to them than it may already be.

However, [in terms of Internet security] there's no single problem (or combination of problems) either via operating systems, browser flaws, or even major websites will take down the Internet. If anything takes down the Internet, it's going to be an infrastructural flaw. Right now, that flaw looks like IPv4, and if ISPs (not just universities) have to start relying on NAT for all of their home users, a whole bunch of application problems will suddenly arise."

So what will be the death of the Internet and/or the world wide web? Security flaws? Backend infrastructure crumbling? Spam, crap, Viagra and more porn than Clinton we could ever want? Maybe it's just a simple numbering problem. Either way, considering we survive on the Internet (in some cases quite literally, hospitals for example), we can't afford to screw it up.

Sorry about not posting so much this last week, for the second time in my life I've got the pox. Chicken, not small.

Topics: Security, Browser, Hardware

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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