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DigiCULT
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Info
24
T
he everyday situation for Internet
users has changed significantly
during the course of its existence.
Anyone who has been using the Internet
for more than a few years will remember
a time when there was no reason to
wonder if an incoming e-mail message
dealt with the subject with which it was
headed, whether its indicated origin was
legitimate, or if it could be opened
without risk of unleashing a destructive
virus. Similarly, although a URL might
easily lead to an outdated document or
an error message, there was no need to
fear that it might unexpectedly go to a
site that you wouldn't want your mother
to see you visiting.
I
f there was any reason to keep the
contents of an e-mail communication
from being read by unauthorised indivi-
duals or to provide it with a verifiable
signature, encryption applications were
available. Information in an e-mail
header was, however, routinely trusted
without need for further concern.
Indeed, one of the reasons for the
Internet having assumed the dominant
position among comparable technologies
was that it did nothing other than move
packets of data from one node on the
network to another, and verify the
correct delivery of data between the
client and server. No accountancy data
beyond what was needed for these
immediate purposes were included in
the data stream.
F
or a long time, the users and adminis-
trators of the Internet shared a common
interest in ensuring its reliable operation.
Although the members of this community
needed to trust each other, this trust was
implicit in the basic phenomenon.
Notions of such things as spam did not
exist.There was thus no basis for even
dreaming that it would someday become
a pandemic malady, and no mechanisms
were devised for combating it or any of
the other threats to the secure operation
of the Internet that sadly now abound.
T
here is no way that more explicit
support for security and trust can
be retrofitted to the Internet's basic
transport protocols. The security of a
variety of adjunct protocols such as the
DNS (Domain Name System) and
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is
currently being improved by extensions
to previous versions of those protocols.
This is largely intended to protect client-
server transactions. The pervasive aspect
of trust that characterised the early
Internet community is probably lost
forever and may have become so not
solely because of security issues. No
community can grow continually
without the interests of its members at
some point diverging. If its becomes
large enough, it may no longer be appro-
priate even to attempt to see it as a single
community.The Internet has now become
large beyond any ability of its creators to
have imagined, and the initial single user
community has been replaced by an all
but countless number of separate
communities.
M
any of these are large and have
clear sectoral identities indepen-
dent of the Internet. In many cases, the
activity that they conduct on it could
benefit from an equally clear shared
identity on the Internet. During the
course of the development sketched
above, however, the concept of network
identity focused ever less on groups.
Emphasis shifted toward individual
organisations `branding' themselves with
domain names. To the extent that such
an organisation needed to provide a basis
of trust in its dealings with Net users, the
brand served that purpose.
F
urther impetus to this trend was
provided by changing perceptions of
the commercial value of the Internet.
This led to the dot-com phenomenon
and its ultimate collapse, which caused
inestimable collateral damage. When it
became apparent that domain names
were being used in manners that had
potential for leading in an undesirable if
not outright harmful direction, it was
proposed that this might be offset by the
creation of a larger number of top-level
domains (TLDs). Further similar benefit
might be had if the semantic value of
domain names were brought into clearer
focus. A `proof of concept' of the latter
approach was foreseen in the creation of
a number of restricted TLDs, each
established for a clearly named and well-
defined `target community'. Without any
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