5 milestones that created the internet, 50 years after the first network message

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
October 25, 2019

Fifty years ago, a UCLA computer science professor and his student sent the first message over the predecessor to the internet, a network called ARPANET.

On Oct. 29, 1969, Leonard Kleinrock and Charley Kline sent Stanford University researcher Bill Duval a two-letter message: “lo.” The intended message, the full word “login,” was truncated by a computer crash.

Much more traffic than that travels through the internet these days, with billions of emails sent and searches conducted daily. As a scholar of how the internet is governed, I know that today’s vast communications web is a result of governments and regulators making choices that collectively built the internet as it is today.

Here are five key moments in this journey.

1978: Encryption failure

Early internet pioneers, in some ways, were remarkably farsighted. In 1973, a group of high school students reportedly gained access to ARPANET, which was supposed to be a closed network managed by the Pentagon.

Computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn suggested building encryption into the internet’s core protocols, which would have made it far more difficult for hackers to compromise the system.

But the U.S. intelligence community objected, though officials didn’t publicly say why. The only reason their intervention is public is because Cerf hinted at it in a 1983 paper he co-authored.

As a result, basically all of today’s internet users have to handle complex passwords and multi-factor authentication systems to ensure secure communications. People with more advanced security needs often use virtual private networks or specialized privacy software like Tor to encrypt their online activity.

However, computers may not have had enough processing power to effectively encrypt internet communications. That could have slowed the network, making it less attractive to users – delaying, or even preventing, wider use by researchers and the public.

Read the full piece at The Conversation