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posted by janrinok on Monday March 12 2018, @03:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the full-of-300bps-goodness dept.

Professor Steve Bellovin at the computer science department at Columbia University in New York City writes in his blog about early design decisions for Usenet. In particular he addresses authentication and the factors taken into consideration given the technology available at the time. After considering the infeasiblity of many options at the time, they ultimately threw up their hands.

That left us with no good choices. The infrastructure for a cryptographic solution was lacking. The uux command rendered illusory any attempts at security via the Usenet programs themselves. We chose to do nothing. That is, we did not implement fake security that would give people the illusion of protection but not the reality.

For those unfamiliar with it, Usenet is a text-based, worldwide, decentralized, distributed discussion system. Basically it can be likened to a bulletin board system of sorts. Servers operate peer to peer while users connect to their preferred server using a regular client-server model. It was a key source of work-related discussion, as well as entertainment and regular news. Being uncensorable, it was a key source of news during several major political crises around the world during the 1980s and early 1990s. Being uncensorable, it has gained the ire of both large businesses and powerful politicians. It used to be an integral part of any ISP's offerings even 15 years ago. Lack of authentication has been both a strength and a weakness. Professor Bellovin sheds some light on how it came to be like that.

Despite weaknesses, Usenet gave rise to among many other things the now defunct Clarinet news, which is regarded to be the first exclusively online business.


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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Arik on Monday March 12 2018, @03:55PM (12 children)

    by Arik (4543) on Monday March 12 2018, @03:55PM (#651382) Journal
    You can think of usenet as sort of like twitter. Except without the tiny character limit which prevents any sort of substantive discussion, and with groups to follow instead of individuals.

    The groups were the genius of it, neatly splitting the world up into 6 (later 7) hierarchies which were lightly moderated or curated and had well established formal subject matter/purposes. For instance if you wanted a joke feed you might subscribe to one or more groups under rec.humor. And in that group you might encounter other people with a similar sense of humor. It's conceivable you might even get to know each other and take your discussion off the group, to email perhaps.

    You did not, however, click a thumbs up button next to a joke and immediately start auto-stalking everything the poster says on all channels, which seems to be how today's 'social media' works.

    No, you might deal with someone in an official capacity, in the appropriate place, without ever knowing what that same person said in a different place when he got off work. Not only did the system not auto-stalk at the click of a button, there wasn't any sort of totalitarian system that could do such a thing even if someone wanted to. You could *manually* stalk someone if you really wanted to, but then it would be pretty clear that was what you were doing, and you couldn't muddy the water with claims of harassment.

    Why did we let usenet die and facebook live? I just can't seem to remember.
    --
    If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by canopic jug on Monday March 12 2018, @04:04PM (1 child)

    by canopic jug (3949) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @04:04PM (#651387) Journal

    No, you might deal with someone in an official capacity, in the appropriate place, without ever knowing what that same person said in a different place when he got off work. Not only did the system not auto-stalk at the click of a button, there wasn't any sort of totalitarian system that could do such a thing even if someone wanted to. You could *manually* stalk someone if you really wanted to, but then it would be pretty clear that was what you were doing, and you couldn't muddy the water with claims of harassment.

    Well you could script something so stupid if you wanted to. There was the seemingly omnipresent kibo [wikipedia.org] after all. In most ways his gimmick was hilarious but that was because it was both novel and unique. Usenet's lack of auto-stalking is a great advantage. It allowed better attempts at sticking to the topics and not taking things personally. Yeah there were fights and flamewars but the system at least was designed to steer people on topic. Social control media seems designed to make people tear at each other [wired.com] instead.

    --
    Money is not free speech. Elections should not be auctions.
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by khallow on Monday March 12 2018, @08:02PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @08:02PM (#651495) Journal
      You had to mention the vile one's name. That's an hour and a half, I shall never see again. My musings turned to my very distant and incredibly unproductive days in college MDC-style.

      Many have wondered what deep-seated wickedness drives me that I may post the cruel things that I do with such obvious delight. It's because of repeated exposure to Xibo [xibo.com] who is everything that Kibo is not. I hung out at the school's computer center where Xibo worked as a programming analyst. Merely walking by him would be enough to taint you for weeks. Needless to say, I was at that computer center a lot.

      So... his fault.
  • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:06PM (#651388)

    The rich kids were doing it. Then, that's what every one else began to expect. Then, you were abnormal if you didn't go along with the crowd.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday March 12 2018, @04:20PM (7 children)

    by DannyB (5839) on Monday March 12 2018, @04:20PM (#651396) Journal

    In hell . . .
    * you get Usenet, but there is only one newsgroup: alt.soc.rec.talk.comp.news.sci.misc.
    * You only get Windows 3.1
    * On an 8 MHz 80386
    * The only programming language is Perl
    * The only shell is command.com
    * The only editor is edlin (that would stop the fighting about vi vs emacs and make people thankful for the hard work that went into both!)
    * A whopping 2 GB hard drive!
    * For only $7995!
    * And 9600 Kbps dialup!

    But in the 21st century we get FaceTwit.

    --
    Reminder: March is National Procrastination Week.
    • (Score: 2) by Arik on Monday March 12 2018, @05:19PM (3 children)

      by Arik (4543) on Monday March 12 2018, @05:19PM (#651431) Journal
      "you get Usenet, but there is only one newsgroup: alt.soc.rec.talk.comp.news.sci.misc."

      That doesn't sound great. But at least it's not the triumvirate of fake news;  MSN, CNN, and Faux.

      "You only get Windows 3.1"

      Sweet!

      Yes, yes, I know what you're all thinking. No one in their right mind wants Windows 3.1. Well, true, but again, consider the alternatives. Any version of Windows you can completely unload and get to a primary prompt from is still better than the NT/XP/7/8/10 atrocity.

      "On an 8 MHz 80386"

      My first PC might have had a Zilog Z80 at about 3 Mhz, my first IBM-Compatible a 6 Mhz 80286, so that doesn't sound so unworkable.

      "The only programming language is Perl
      * The only shell is command.com
      * The only editor is edlin (that would stop the fighting about vi vs emacs and make people thankful for the hard work that went into both!)"

      Programming language? Pshaw! You have the pieces there to make any "programming language" you want. Edlin and debug are all you need to build anything you want.

      Also ed, man! !man ed

      --
      If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday March 12 2018, @09:32PM (1 child)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @09:32PM (#651539) Journal
        A month in, they'll upgrade to Windows ME.
        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Arik on Monday March 12 2018, @10:21PM

          by Arik (4543) on Monday March 12 2018, @10:21PM (#651553) Journal
          "A month in, they'll upgrade to Windows ME."

          Truly the worst of both worlds.
          --
          If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
      • (Score: 1) by DECbot on Monday March 12 2018, @10:57PM

        by DECbot (832) on Monday March 12 2018, @10:57PM (#651569) Journal

        Python, but without access to any of the libraries. And the interpreter can only run from a JVM written in javascript launched from IExplorer 6.0.

        --
        cats~$ sudo chown -R us /home/base
    • (Score: 2) by captain normal on Monday March 12 2018, @06:32PM (2 children)

      by captain normal (2205) on Monday March 12 2018, @06:32PM (#651466)

      " And 9600 Kbps dialup!"
      That was pretty wishful thinking in the '90s. Win 3.1 computers likely had a 32 kbps modem. Around 1994 you could get 56 kbps modems. 96 kbps modems first showed up about the same time as Win 95 (remember "plug and pray"?).

      --
      When life isn't going right, go left.
      • (Score: 2) by toddestan on Wednesday March 14 2018, @02:14AM (1 child)

        by toddestan (4982) on Wednesday March 14 2018, @02:14AM (#652116)

        56 kbps was the maximum for analog phone lines. There was ISDN, which was either 64 kbps or 128 kbps (which was two 64 kbps lines bonded together). Never heard of a 96 kbps modem.

        Fun fact: ISDN is technically broadband.

        • (Score: 2) by Arik on Wednesday March 14 2018, @09:25PM

          by Arik (4543) on Wednesday March 14 2018, @09:25PM (#652607) Journal
          "Never heard of a 96 kbps modem."

          I believe it was a joking reference to a 9600 bps modem, which did exist. That's 9.6kbps.
          --
          If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12 2018, @04:21PM (#651397)

    Why did we let usenet die and facebook live? I just can't seem to remember.

    Eternal September and the end of the Second Age of the Internet.