Crime vs. Highways. Or, Internet Security Is A Social (Not Technical) Problem

Stefan Savage, speaking in a segment on March 13’s On The Media, asked:

The question I like to ask people is, what are you going to do to the highway system to reduce crime. And when you put it that way, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, because while criminals do use the highway, no rational person is suggesting that if only we could change the transportation architecture that crime would go away.

Savage was speaking on the matter of internet security, and his comment was a counterpoint to a number of commentators who suggested the only way to secure the internet would be to replace the internet. This notion that we need a smarter internet has been around for a while, but its proponents have forgotten that the basic dumbness of the internet is the foundation of its success.

Mike Neuenschwander, for one, was ecstatic that the On The Media segment didn’t “slide into a futile discussion on the merits of world peace,” and followed Savage’s point with considerable discussion about the difference between the network and the social structure of trust. (In contemplating a recent NY Times story on this subject, Computing Community Consortium also quoted Savage on this point. The Coolest part: Savage commented to explain more.)

Near the end of the piece, Jonathan Zittrain explains why attempts to impose more limitations on the internet are so dangerous to the future viability of the internet:

so much of the code we now think of as central and crucial and cool and revolutionary is code for which, when most rational people first see it, their reaction is, what’s the point?

Zittrain offers Twitter as an example, but Ray Tomlinson offers an even better one. According to the legend, the man who invented email told his friend “Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t what we’re supposed to be working on,” as he first demonstrated the application that would eventually become the internet’s first killer app.