The recent denial-of-service hacks against Yahoo, eBay, CNN, Amazon, Buy.com and others (What, not ClickZ? Why, aren't we good enough? Aren't we big enough?) got me thinking about a potential solution, and the conundrums that solution would produce for everyone.
The solution, if you haven't heard, is before the Internet Engineering Task Force as one of the proposals for the IPv6 specification, which will replace the current IPv4. That is, support the tracing and tapping of IP calls.
The current attacks could go unsolved, you see, because we don't know where they're coming from. If we knew where they were coming from, we could surround these criminals and throw them in jail, away from even a Palm Pilot. But we don't, so we can't.
Another IPv6 proposal would assign a permanent IP address to every device on the network. After all, the total "address space" in an IP number would grow from 32 bits (allowing for 12-digit addresses or 4.2 billion total) to 128 bits (arranged in hierarchies) that would let everyone on Earth have hundreds of numbers.
Putting an IP address on each IP device would allow for identification, sure, but when the IETF brought the specific issue of wiretapping to its mailing list, a firestorm of protest erupted. Efforts by people like Vint Cerf to calm the waters by noting that IPv6 would also encrypt all Internet traffic under a standard called IPsec didn't succeed.
In the wake of the current crisis, either those protests will die down or the Internet Elite - owners of big sites like Yahoo, eBay, CNN, Amazon and Buy.com - will change their tune. The fact is the Internet population has changed, they might explain. There are bad guys out there, people we must be protected against, and we must give the cops the tools they need to do their duty.
"But," the paranoid reply (and just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, right?), "what if these hacks actually come from cops? What if it's an FBI, CIA, or even Chinese government plot to force wiretapping into IPv6? After all, IP wiretapping would give the Chinese the power they need to enforce thought control, not only domestically but against overseas Chinese as well."
They might add that technology works both ways. If bad guys aren't anonymous, neither are good guys. Mexican drug lords could tap traffic back to informants and take direct action.
"Maybe," the elite might answer, "the cops have thought of that and can mask the wiretapping capability as well as keep it secret."
To which the paranoid would respond derisively: "When has any technology secret been kept?"
It's time for all of us - good guys and bad, innocent and (potentially) guilty - to admit a bitter truth. There are just no easy answers here. If these incidents wake us up to that fact, we have a silver lining to this dark cloud. Maybe, then, we can complete and implement IPv6 without rancor.
("What," say the paranoid, "you accusing me of being rancorous? They're the rancorous ones, talk to them!")
(Please, Paranoid One, calm down, or we'll think you're running for president.)
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
March 19, 2014