Aug 31 2009

Obama And A Secure Internet

Published by at 10:22 am under All General Discussions

Just wanted to dash off a quick post on a topic of much handwringing today – the supposed take over of the internet by the White House.

This fire storm was lit by a poorly written, slightly hyperventilating article in CNET News. The offensive ‘reporting’ is in how the article explained cyber threats and actions required to squelch these threats.

I don’t have time for a full blown tutorial this morning, but one common mode to disrupt the internet is to flood it with garbage, pushing elements beyond their capacities and basically clogging up the pipes (and processors) for legitimate traffic. One excellent method for producing this flood of garbage message traffic is to secretly load viral programs on numerous computer systems timed to begin their broadcast flood at a single point in time.

To stop the flood and clear the pipes of the internet requires turning off the faucets of garbage – which means shutting down computers and taking them off the network.

This is done every day of the year as systems detect and abort attacks. We here have to do it a lot (reboot the server) when we get slammed with this type of attack (whether unintentional or otherwise).

The need to pull garbage spewing elements off the network is not in question to stop these denial of service attacks. The need for the authorities to order these compromised systems offline if the operators resist is also not much in question.

What is a bit dodgy is why this is such a big deal, and why would the government ‘seize control’ in the first place. The reason I say this is most critical systems in this nation are not on the ‘public’ internet in the first place. Government and key private industry systems are on their own private systems, protected against most attacks and isolated from each other.

In the same way a ship has flood doors to compartmentalize any leak and isolate the flood to only a limited sector, so to are communication architectures set up as isolated compartments. If designed right, there is NO NEED to seize anything. What you do is isolate systems running amok – turn off their access (close the flood doors).

I don’t think the language of the bill is technically correct or current (I have yet to find anyone on Capitol Hill who could understand even the introductory levels of modern communication systems), and I think the reporting is primarily alarmists with little to no context. In other words, we are not being served by the news media or the law makers (as usual).

We need to establish protective communication architectures that isolate key information systems both in the public and private sector. We need guidelines and process to coordinate the isolation of cyber attacks with response times of a few minutes. We need hotlines and isolated networks for key personnel to notify each other and respond en masse to attacks.

We don’t need government seizure, we need government to lead a coordinated response (and pay for the extra security). We need trained professionals, but licensing people to know a technology is not the answer. We need innovation – which rules out dictates from government and means we need the private sector to develop coherent solutions that get government blessing (not authorization). And we need to build bridges between private and government run systems so that one side is not fighting an attack while the other has not clue what is happening.

I think most people are trying to do the right thing here, sadly there are not a lot of good people who know what needs to be done in the loop right now. Right problem, wrong solution, wrong architects of a sound solution.

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Obama And A Secure Internet”

  1. WWS says:

    A lot of young people don’t pay any attention to the big policy debates, but they WILL pay attention to something that sounds like an infringement on something they use and depend on: the internet. Technically, what you’ve written is pretty accurate – some emergency preparation would be wise, although the current proposal is hamhanded and being done by the wrong people.

    HOWEVER, that is irrelevant at this particular time – Obama won by playing by Alinsky rules, and he won’t be defeated unless the Alinsky rules are thrown back at him. Under Alinsky rules,the reality of any issue is of marginal value, the POLITICS of the issue are all that is relevant. This issue needs to be pushed and heard by those people (many young) who aren’t paying attention to the other issues, because a) they are one of the last groups still mostly supporting Obama, and b) this is the perfect kind of wedge issue that can sow fear, mistrust, and dissension among them. For that reason, this issue should be pushed hard on all internet outlets and at all times. As many net users as possible need to see this, because even if they are not convinced, it will make them doubt, and that is the first step towards cracking Obama’s hold on them.

    Alinsky rules – convert those you can, neutralize those whom you cannot, sow dissension and confusion among your enemies always. Another Alinsky rule – attack in 1,000 different ways from 1,000 different directions, and never stop attacking. If all this issue does is distract some of the people on Obama’s team from focusing on health care for a while, it will still have been useful.

    We are engaged in a civil cold war – if we are going to win, we need to fight like it. And from now on, the fight never ends until this administration is out of office.

  2. AJStrata says:


    I have no idea how familiar you are with the Internet, but what is being proposed is so naive to the reality it is a joke. The internet cannot be controlled without government seizure of assets and commercial companies.

    The moment anyone tries that then the antibodies will come out in force. The Internet is ubiquitous to society right now, which means anyone attempting to control it will learn a harsh lesson in who actually controls what.

    Even if this is an Alinsky – it is ignorant of what is feasible. To have the dems implode on the information/communications infrastructure as they did on Obamacare is not a risk to anyone but the dems.

  3. WWS says:

    You and I know that the reality of doing this is ludicrous.

    What I’m talking about are harsh tactics for harsh times.

    This is useful to create a perception of mistrust and doubt among those who may not be paying attention to other, more technical debates. As long as that perception can be created, then the reality of whether or not this can ever happen is irrelevant.

  4. Aitch748 says:

    The story I keep reading (secondhand) is about some bill in the Senate to grant the President the authority to shut off the Internet in the event of some sort of “emergency.” I’m just curious how you could possibly do that — take out ICANN? Shut off all the servers that translate between IP addresses and web URLs? I thought the Internet was designed to route around obstacles to communications (and actually designed to survive in the event of a nuclear war). How would you shut off the Internet?

  5. Whomever says:

    That’s what I like about you, AJ. You’ and your blog are so danged sensible.

  6. AJStrata says:

    Thanks Whomever!