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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: 4, Informative) by number11 on Monday March 12 2018, @08:55PM

    by number11 (1170) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 12 2018, @08:55PM (#651521)

    Why did a supposedly superior technology fail?

    Fail? It hasn't failed, at least not entirely. It did suffer from two things:
    First, it had more and more spam;
    Second: it didn't have shiny pictures and the ability to sell things for advertisers.
    But it's still around, somewhat moribund but still there. There are free servers such as https://www.eternal-september.org/ [eternal-september.org]. They're text groups only, for binary groups you'll probably have to pay someplace like http://www.blocknews.net/ [blocknews.net]. But that's like a prepay cellphone, you only pay for the bits you use.

    There are still some active and useful unmoderated and moderated groups. The former sort of self-moderate via peer pressure. And while there are trolls, there's not too much spam, because advertisers have more productive things to do, like banner ads on yahoo.com.

    Starting Score:    1  point
    Moderation   +2  
       Informative=2, Total=2
    Extra 'Informative' Modifier   0  
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   4