Governance in the Web 2.0 world

Everything over http


There are some forces that just cannot be stopped. Block the path, and they'll just go round some other way. Fortunately, here in Devon, where Dartmoor has had no difficulty absorbing the recent rain, that's not a topical observation about the state of my living room. But it is certainly topical on the net.

The classic seven-layer network model has served us well, and continues to do so. Each network interface has an IP address and a lot of ports, some of them allocated by policy to specific network services, others unused. The purpose of having lots of different ports is that different services, having different architectures and semantics for different applications, can use different ports. That way they run independent of each other and without interference on the same network. Simple, secure, and elegant.

What may lie behind a port is another story altogether, and many network services involve components that are very far from secure. Some hark back to another age, when security was not a concern. Others were never written with internet exposure in mind. Or are just badly-written. Even those that are designed to be exposed to the full rigours of today's net require vigilance: your Apache server should be secure against known exploits, but applications you run on it may be much weaker.

Fortunately, nowadays we have firewalls. Packet-filtering firewalls, very simple to understand and deploy. You don't need to be a professional network administrator - just buy a modem/router and you have one that's almost certainly secured by default (all incoming connections are rejected). Thus, the unwashed masses get a measure of protection from their own ignorance. This is a good thing.

But like many good things, it has a downside. The firewall is so simple and useful that it gets into company policies. The systems manager is commonly devalued to a low-skill operator-grade role. A typical policy goes something like, "this is a webserver. We open ports 80 and 443, and firewall everything else". This is a good policy...up to a point. The point in question is where you have a need to run a service for which HTTP is not well-suited.

At this point, the firewall policy and the company's needs are in conflict. Do you (and perhaps your insurers and lawyers) trust your PFY-grade sysop to exercise discretion with your security? For what it's worth, you probably should. Opening a port on a firewall really is that simple (though it does raise a "slippery slope" argument). Or do you allocate a large budget to hire high-powered consultants to tell you what's OK (and p*** off your sysop)? Or do you look for a workaround?

Consider, for example, a thoroughly ordinary requirement - symmetric, stateful two-way communication over a persistent connection. It could be anything from simple chat to a fancy VPN. It can be done over HTTP. There are many ways to deal with state, at the cost of some complexity.


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022