People have rightly complained about SOPA, the “UN Takeover,” and other abuses of the Internet by governments, but all these publicized abuses were minor. The real nasty deeds are taking place in back rooms right now, among engineers who are trading away Internet freedom for mere paychecks.
As the article linked above says, “If civil society activists and technologists both had a better appreciation of [technical things]… they would be paying far more attention to this than they paid to the WCIT.” (WCIT was the “UN Takeover.”)
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE BACK ROOM
As I say, the real dirty deeds are currently happening in the back room. Here’s what they are:
Right now, a group called the Secure Inter-Domain Routing Working Group is working on a technology called Secure Border Gateway Protocol, or BGPSEC. (You may remember than I warned about BGPSEC a couple of years ago.)
BGP is how autonomous networks tell each other which IP addresses are available behind them, and it is utterly necessary for a dynamic Internet. No BGP would mean no Internet.
Routing info exchanged over BGP is not currently verifiable, and that can be a problem, especially because of a nasty spying scheme called hijacking. The fix for this involves the verification of unique resources (like IP addresses), but BGPSEC is only one possible solution, among several.
Under BGPSEC (and by a key protocol called RPKI) a permanent hierarchy is created: rigid, centralized and mandatory. It is a solution to highjacking, but at the cost of complete dominance.
Resources could be given out without hierarchy, like Bitcoin does for currency. The people pushing BGPSEC, however, are ignoring all such possibilities.
While BGPSEC solves hijacking, it also allows the top layers of its hierarchy to hijack anyone, at any time, and guarantees that no one can hijack them. In other words, it gives us the centralization of absolute power – precisely what the Internet once freed us from.
The group that will distribute resources (like IP addresses) is called IANA, and it is, more or less, controlled by the US State Department.
Finally, RPKI can use another protocol (Neighborhood Discovery) to take over any IP address they want – even a single IP address.
So, the people at the top of the BGPSEC pyramid will be able to shut down a whole country or a single troublemaker, as they wish. They can also spy on anyone they wish to, and prevent anyone from spying on them.
WILL IT BE FORCED UPON US ALL?
In a word, yes.
There are technical difficulties with BGPSEC. The required cryptography, for example, is not simple, and it may slow down route changes (which is a big deal). But another core protocol called DNSSEC had similar issues, and it became a standard anyway. People threw resources at the problem and got used to it. The average user never knew.
The same thing will happen with BGPSEC. The bosses will compromise at some level, slide it into the arena, and before too many years it will become mandatory. There will be fewer highjacking attacks, but the Internet will be fully enslaved and the US will be a super-empowered spymaster.
As I say, the technical discussions for this are going on right now, and the free Internet is being destroyed as we speak.
THE USUAL CULPRITS
Who wants this? The military-industrial-intel-control-fetish complex, of course.
US government-funded contractors and US government agencies (like the National Institute of Standards & Technology) are the big pushers. The process works, more or less, like this:
- A real routing problem is identified by researchers.
- A clever contractor proposes a control-friendly solution.
- An agency hires them.
- The funding cycle ends.
- The contractor writes an even more appealing proposal.
- The agency continues funding.
None of this, you understand, requires that the problem being addressed is the same problem that operators actually face. Rather, the problem addressed will be the problem that the agencies care about.
Many people who actually run things are complaining about BGPSEC. (The archives of the debate can be found here.) These complaints, however, will either be ignored, or will be used to write still more proposals, with more contractors being hired to address the problems.
At the base of it all, however, are engineers – smart guys – who are willing to do whatever they are asked, so long as they get a paycheck. They are forging electronic chains for humanity, and passing it all off as “a harmless piece of software,” or, “a systems design.”
SO, WHAT DO WE DO?
You want an easy answer? A free fix? Well, tough luck, I don’t have one, and neither does anyone else.
Easy answers went away a long time ago. No one wanted to hear them; instead, they wanted free services and flashing iGadgets. Now, we’re all stuck with harder options.
And even more fundamentally than that, you can stop servicing Leviathan. If you’d like some ideas on how to do that, you can start with actions (not talk) like these:
- Opt out of the old culture and start building a new culture.
- Turn off the TV and start talking about other things. Let people think you’re weird.
- Learn why privacy matters.
- Separate from the rigged system.
- Be different. Let people see that you are different. Spend time with others who are also different.
- Stay away from politics in all its forms.
If all of these things are too hard for you, then you are rightly and truly screwed.
January 14, 2013