for the internet
would be a modest
though not without
its own challenges.
tween monitoring performance and
monitoring content—lines that different jurisdictions might take quite
different views on.
All day, every day, the Internet
copes with circuit and equipment
failures, and almost nobody notices.
Occasionally an event—a route leak,
the cutting of critical undersea cables,
the discovery of a software problem—
has a more significant impact, but
the Internet just keeps rolling along.
Many in the industry will argue this is
evidence for the inherent reliability of
the Internet, and, if improvement is
required, it is best left to the industry.
Any outside interference is generally
deemed likely to be clueless and destructive.
On the other hand, every incident
is a small experiment in how well the
system responds. But it is nobody’s
job to investigate, assess the impact,
and find the lessons to be learned.
So, nobody does it, or at least nobody
does it thoroughly or authoritatively.
In some cases, those closest to an in-
cident do not care to publish the ex-
act causes or the entire history. This
can be for commercial reasons, or
for security reasons, but often simply
because they have better things to do
with their time. Perhaps we can learn
from the airline industry. Air travel
has become ever safer, not by try-
ing to gain perfect knowledge of all
possible combinations of weather,
equipment failure, human error, and
so forth, but by learning the lessons
of every incident. This common good
is funded communally—nobody ex-
pects the industry to do this by itself.
Further, air accident investigators
have found ways to deal with the com-
mercial and other issues, and to oper-
ate in a global industry.
We do not know whether a more secure
Border Gateway Protocol would materially improve the reliability of the Internet, let alone whether the improvement would be cost justified. We do
not know whether it would be more
effective to improve the operational
layer, so that it would cope better with
the known vulnerabilities, and would
be better prepared to deal with as-yet unknown ones. Assuming we can
work out how best to improve things,
we do not know how to construct a
system of incentives to implement
those improvements. And the insecurity of BGP is not the only threat to the
If we are to improve the security and
reliability of the Internet, we really need
better data on which to base policy and
engineering decisions…and that is a
common good to which government
could usefully contribute.
1. Hall, C., Clayton, r., anderson, r. and ouzounis, e.
Inter-X: Resilience of the Internet Interconnection
Ecosystem. P. trimintzios, ed. enIsa report; http://
2. Partridge, C. et al. The Internet Under Crisis
Conditions: Learning from September 11. the national
academies Press, Washington, d. C., 2002.
Chris hall ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior
engineer and manager with Highwayman associates in
leatherhead, u.k., and the founding executive director of
the Communications Innovation Institute (now called the
Communications research network) at the Cambridge
university Computer laboratory. recently, he has been
working on the quagga open-source bGP daemon
(sponsored by euro-IX), and co-wrote the report1 from
which this column is derived.
Copyright held by author.
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