Sunday, September 5, 2010

Design Philosophy of the Internet

As many of you know, the internet started as a government research project called ARPANET whose primary goal was to allow independent networks to communicate with each other. There were also several secondary goals which are mentioned in The Design Philosophy of the DARPA Internet Protocols. I wish to discuss a few things I found interesting in this paper. The secondary goals are as follows:

  1. Internet communication must continue despite loss of networks or gateways
  2. The Internet must support multiple types of communication services
  3. The Internet architecture must accommodate a variety of networks
  4. The Internet architecture must permit distributed management of its resources
  5. The Internet architecture must be cost effective
  6. The Internet architecture must permit host attachment with low level of effort
  7. The resources used in the Internet architecture must be accountable


Considering this system was originally developed for military use, I find 1 & 2 very obvious and necessary goals. What is surprising to me though, is that security is not in that list. Many government agencies have very strict security policies. For example, Agilent Technologies develops test and measurement equipment. One of their customers is the NSA. If something goes wrong with the equipment, the engineer at the NSA is not allowed to copy and paste error messages or take screen shots of them. He must write them down by hand and email them to the support people at Agilent. Talk about a little paranoia but, you see the point. Either the government wasn't worried about the network communications being intercepted (which would surprise me) or they figured this network would be so small and somewhat protected that it would be impossible to intercept. I often wonder what the internet protocols would be like if security had been a design goal from the beginning. Security in any system can incur large amounts of overhead, which is why, I think, it usually comes last. Today we have IPsec and multiple application layer protocols, but those were after thoughts.

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