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When the Internet breaks, who ya gonna call?

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The Internet grew too big too fast, says John Doyle, professor of electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

“The original was just an experimental demo, not a finished product,” he says. “And ironically, [the originators] were just too good and too clever. They made something that was such a fantastic platform for innovation that it got adopted, proliferated, used, and expanded like crazy. Nothing’s perfect.”

Rather than create a more robust network using the lessons we learned from the ARPAnet and early days of the Internet, we’ve instead been patching it up for the past 2-1/2 decades, Dr. Doyle says.

Unfortunately, the spirit of trust that had typified the ARPAnet and early Internet doesn’t hold up so well today. Many of the underlying computer protocols assume that everyone is an honest player, and increasingly there have been incidents where malicious parties have exploited this trust for their own purposes.

A glaring example is “DNS poisoning.” The domain name system (DNS) is the part of the Internet responsible for turning a name such as CSMonitor.com into the Internet version of a street address, which in this case is 66.114.52.47.

Because DNS servers trust one another, it is possible for a wily wrongdoer to convince the computer to start providing the wrong number for a name and send Web surfers to the wrong website, perhaps a malicious one. That’s probably not a catastrophe when it’s CSMonitor.com, but potentially devastating if it’s BankOfAmerica.com.

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