canopic jug writes:
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.
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.