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Encryption Blog

On the Media Series: The Internet at 40

Created: 18 Mar 2009 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
Doug McLean's picture
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Silicon Valley is served by several public radio stations. One of the better weekend shows is entitled "On the Media" produced by WNYC in New York. Typically, it provides good review and analysis of how the mainstream media covered the election or the economy during the previous week. This week, however, they started a three part series to look back at the last 40 years of the Internet, its promise, its problems and its future.

The first installment is entitled "The Net's Midlife Crisis" and focuses on the security issues the Internet now faces. If this installment is anything to judge by, this could be one of the better Internet retrospective pieces ever. The podcast and transcript are here, but what's even more interesting in my view are the detailed interviews (available only online) with PGP Corporation advisor Richard Clarke, New York Times correspondent John Markoff, and author Jonathan Zittrain.

Clarke does his usual excellent job of explaining in plain English, just how vulnerable the 'net has become. Those of you familiar with his novel BreakPoint, will recognize the scenario. In this particular interview, however, he expands on the real life threats we've seen since the publication of BreakPoint and presents some interesting perspectives on what can be done about at least some of them.

The interview with John Markoff focuses on the history of Internet worms and recounts how Markoff himself determined who the author of the first worm known as the RTM or Morris worm. I hadn't heard this story before and it highlights how "exciting" the life of a journalist can be and how much heavy lifting you have to do to break a story of that magnitude.

The Zittrain interview is the longest of the three and the most dense in terms of its content. Zittrain clearly knows his stuff and demonstrates an unusual grasp of the complexity of securing the Internet without limiting the wave of creativity and economic activity it has unleashed.

Even if you're pushed for time, I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in cybercrime or the evolution of Internet security listen to the Mid-life Crisis piece. At not quite 20 minutes, it's time well spent. If you have a little extra time or can download the podcasts, the other interviews are the best I've heard on this topic in a long time.