Saving the World, One Packet at a Time


According to the latest update bulletin from MessageLabs that lands in my inbox each month, around 90% of all emails passing over the Net are spam. And their global report says that around 120 billion spam emails are sent out from botnets every day. That means there's around one and a half million unwanted messages being launched onto and scooting around some part of the network every second. And that's without all the gunk required to accomplish the other types of malicious activity, such as the DNS Amplification attacks I'm being regularly subjected to at the moment.

Of course, the bulk of traffic on the Net is probably HTTP Web browsing, not email. But you have to wonder what percentage of the resources that make our interconnected technological experience work are required just to cope with stuff that nobody actually wants. How many power stations could we close down, how many degrees global warming could we avoid, and what savings could we make in cost, resources, and raw materials if we could just find a way to kill it off?

And how come the people who run the world are more concerned about making me use these awful new low energy light bulbs than applying their influence and capabilities (?) to an issue that should be easy to fix, and would have only positive outcomes for everybody? Not that our temporarily coalesced Government here in the UK have much idea about information technology anyway. They just announced that the previous plan to allow everybody to get "high speed" (2 MB) ADSL connections by 2015 was over-ambitious and will not now happen - even though they are wholeheartedly backing the introduction of multi-channel TV over the Internet in the next year or so. Yeah, that'll work...

And even the ISPs seem to be unable to do anything about it. My ISP, when asked about the recent DNS attacks, agreed that they were killing connection speed for many customers and affecting bandwidth availability across the network; and - yes - they know which ISPs and which IP addresses the attacks are coming from; but they are not allowed to block these addresses as part of some "international agreement". In the same way that they're not allowed to block the torrent of unsolicited fax and phone calls we get here that originate in various countries around the world.

I suppose the only saving grace is that I'm old enough to remember when networks were even less reliable and performant than the Internet is now. My first contact with digital electronic communication was though an acoustically-coupled (clamped onto a telephone handset with a rubber band) dial-up modem that ran at 1200/75. That's a sniffle less than 1.2 KB (not MB) down and 0.1 KB up. Somewhat slower than even the slowest dial-up today, and about one thousandth of the speed of my current (slow) ADSL connection.

Yet there was a real sense of adventure watching each 80 character wide by 25 line screen slowly fill up with text at a rate of about two screens per minute (even Twitter would have seemed slow then), and submitting a document back was often a "leave it running and come back the next day" scenario. Though usually the modem decided to drop the line when your neighbour's phone rang, or when the stroweger mechanical switch in one of the intermediate exchanges had some dust on its contacts. The typical procedure was to hit "send", go off and have dinner, then phone the recipient to see if it had arrived - and then read out the original so they could correct all the transmission errors.

That was the other problem, of course - no reliable error correction in the protocol or hardware. If you tried to communicate in real (slow) time, you had to contend with     long       waits   before     each         word or   part       of     a     w     or   d       a   p p   ear ed and     be   able       to  dec1p&er the   stran%e    char@£acte~s that  ad0ed   a cer/ain     addi|ional   piqu@ncy   to the   content.     Or be   prep@r3d     to  rec0n;ect when   it       sudden(y   st*pp=d half~ay     through   a       vit*lly  |mp0~tant

So I guess I shouldn't really complain. I mean, I opened a Web browser and uploaded this blog post in only a few seconds, and was reading the result on screen in less than a minute. What would have been even more useful, of course, is if the content was actually worth all the resources it took to put it there...

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