This is my third column on creating a more secure computing ecosystem. My first two columns summarized the larger ideas behind this project: It begins with secure hardware and moves on to secure booting, a secure OS, secure applications, and authenticated users, as well as the ability to track network packets from start to end.
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Supporters have so far outnumbered critics four to one (whatever that means in a nonrandom survey). Reader Michael Hartmann was among the many proponents of the solution. I like the way he captured the idea: “I think making the Internet more secure is really analogous to making any human society more secure. Anarchy is the easiest but riskiest course, and forming a government of laws is difficult but a necessary evil. Without some form of agreed-upon limits, there really is no method for fairly and effectively policing the miscreants. With a system of verification, we have the start of security, just like we have the start of some reasonable security with a judicial system and other safeguards.”
As a former mohawk-wearing punk rocker (I wish I was making that up), I loved anarchy as an ideal. But I noticed that all my punk friends still called the police when someone hit them or stole their property.
The most important part of a secure ecosystem is being able to trace a network packet from source to destination. Malicious hackers hack because they can’t be caught. But if we could always track every packet back to its originating computer, the benevolent masses could once again compute safely. Our networks and servers would not be clogged with spam and botnet traffic. We might actually be able to spend more time being productive than trying to figure out why the computer is so slow and crashes all the time. Imagine not having to waste money on anti-virus scanners, host-based firewalls, and all their ilk.
Of course, if I want to be truthful about this, those pubescent products would be replaced by more mature, more accurate descendants in my more secure reality.
But how do you authenticate or track every network packet from source to destination? I’m no crypto expert, so I’m just throwing out layman ideas. I’m not even sure if we need the ability to trace every packet back through every participating hoop or just back to the originating source. The latter is easier than the former, but I don’t have the expertise to figure out which is needed.
It would have to start with some sort of authenticated MAC addressing so that the packets could be traced from the original IP stack that created them. Forged MAC addresses wouldn’t be allowed; the originating computer would sign the packet as belonging solely to it. We would need a new digital machine certificate type with an OID field to include the machine’s authenticated MAC address (or other identifying information).
The IP stack on every participating host would have to be rewritten to include default signing and authentication. (IPv8, anyone?) If done properly, I don’t even think all the current routers would have to be replaced.