January 30, 2004

Encryption Provocation

The Internet was conceived as a messaging system for the reliable transmission of war orders in the middle of a nuclear conflict. The killer applications that actually promoted it to worldwide must-have were e-mail, ftp, and the web which made it an electronic replacement for the post office, parcel post, and mass media, respectively.

The point of the history is that you never know when you make a basic tool, what higher level application will develop to take advantage of your basic technology and turn your scientific curiosity into a new global essential. One of the things that private key infrastructure (PKI) makers have long pondered is what would make their products universal. After all, who likes to have their mail read? But year in, year out, the vast majority of e-mail users are content to send the electronic equivalent of postcards to each other. The minor hassle of encrypting mail has not been worth it outside authoritarian states that have enough freedom so there is e-mail but are bad enough that there is a broad need for secrecy as a weapon against the government. With the fall of the soviet bloc and the subsequent spread of freedom, that justification died down.

Well, now we have a new villian that will likely drive people to the widespread use of encryption and it's an unlikely villain, big music pushing its IP rights beyond what people instinctively feel advances the arts and sciences have led to a sagebrush rebellion of file swappers opting out of paying for music. And the more that the RIAA and other national artistic associations push, the more that encryption becomes a necessity in the free world. The demand will likely grow to the point where encryption becomes a system level service that is interoperable across computing platforms.

At that point, with the ability to encrypt everything by default, the computing world changes drastically. How that change will play out is anyone's guess. That it will be important and play out differently in different fields is an easy prediction.

HT: Good Morning Silicon Valley

Posted by TMLutas at January 30, 2004 03:59 PM