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Stop Using the Term “Open Internet”

Over the past few years, the term “open internet” has become popular among politicians in Washington and Europe. It is bandied about in political pronouncements that assert that everyone needs to somehow support the open internet without ever actually defining it. It is sometimes used as a synonym for Net Neutrality.

In fact, it is a bogus public relations term that is rather like saying you believe in the Tooth Fairy. Furthermore, it vectors the focus away from more serious needs such as effective cybersecurity defense, and all too evident threats by adversaries who are using the open attributes of some internets to mount attacks on facilities and data repositories. It is time to stop using the term.


The term “open” in the context of communication networks invokes potentially hundreds of different parameters. The first significant use of “open” occurred forty years ago with the emergence of the massive Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) initiative that governments and industry mounted in the ITU, ISO, and numerous other venues. The work led to massive numbers of standards, including in the U.S., the Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP) specifications that profiled open networking products. Indeed, an open and relatively secure OSI internet was rolled out using the internet protocol CLNP. Ironically, it was the DARPA internet for closed and carefully monitored R&D networks based on TCP/IP in the early 1990s that were pushed out into the public infrastructure by Clinton and Gore without any real security that has been recently politically advanced for openness.

Furthermore, the basic current construct of openness is fundamentally nonsensical. It is exemplified with a hypothetical conversation. “You have a smart phone and lots of computer devices, and probably a home network. Are you willing to allow everyone and anyone in the world to have unfettered access and usage? No?” Well, you get the idea now. It led to the Cato Institute dubbing this as the “What’s Yours is Mine” philosophy.

Thus, lies the conundrum and absurdity of advocating unfettered openness of networks and devices. Advocating “openness” is equivalent to suggesting that all computer and network resources belong to everyone in the world for the taking and exploitation. No rational person, organization, or nation is likely to buy into that proposition.


Next, there is the oft-bandied term “internet.” There is no singularity that exists as “the internet.”. Many different internets have existed since Louis Pouzin developed the concept in France nearly fifty years ago, and will continue to exist. Indeed, after years of legal wrangling over IPR ownership of the term INTERNET, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in its landmark year 2000 order, legally recognized that INTERNET is a meaningless term and free for anyone to use for anything they choose.

Throughout the world, there are countless networks that at multiple levels are enabled to process and route digital packets among devices within their architectures. Many have varied gateways with other networks. Innumerable internets and related services coexist as virtual overlays among them. Increasingly in the rapidly emerging NFV-SDN-5G world, these will be network slices orchestrated from data centres that are gatewayed as needed using the most efficient protocols and endpoint addresses.

Even if one focusses on one of the most politically popular of the internets based on IPv4, the only real measurement of the topology by CAIDA is fuzzy to say the least, and comprising roughly 50 million routers, 150 thousand links, and 50 thousand autonomous systems. As CAIDA notes, it is also highly U.S.—centric.

By comparison, the GSM global mobile internet currently has nearly 9 billion connected devices and 5 billion users and growing at an exceedingly fast rate—offering substantial openness at higher security levels.

Open Internet

An obvious consequential question is how the term “open internet” originated and why it persists. The phrase is generally associated with the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality initiative—which itself was largely initiated by Over the Top (OTT) providers that rely on the DARPA internet’s U.S. centricity to pursue offshore markets—especially for mining available information and directly reaching end users. The term’s use was almost unknown prior to 2008, although it was the political successor to the Clinton Administration’s Internet Freedom strategy.

In Washington lobbying circles, the term has been co-opted by almost everyone as a kind of political mantra without ever explaining details—even with the reversal of FCC Net Neutrality policy. Oddly, the U.S. State Department is still promoting the term abroad - even as the Trump Administration’s Net Neutrality policy has changed domestically. However, incongruity is a stable of life in Washington and no one expects intellectual or policy consistency.

In the European Union, the term Open Internet is tightly bound to Net Neutrality, and has special significance in efforts to bring about a common market. Elsewhere in the world, it is not apparent that anyone really cares, as the global mobile internet infrastructure is more important.

What has changed?

Over the past several years, the exponential increase in the placement of malware and exfiltration of sensitive information via open networks should have re-vectored the Open Internet rhetoric. The DARPA Director who approved its R&D internet development in the 1970s began sounding the alarm in a continuing series of initiatives and papers to senior U.S. DOD officials beginning in the late 1990s. Evgeny Morozov at the political level began raising concerns in 2011 with his famous book, “Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom.” The WikiLeaks Assange activism about the same time should also have been a wakeup call as to the ease and harms of massive data exfiltrations. Even the theft of the U.S. government’s OPM clearance data failed to lessen the fervor for open internets.

However, it appears that a series of recent events in the U.S. have finally begun to heighten concerns about the dark side of internet openness. This began with the revelation in 2016 that Putin hoisted the U.S. on its own open internet petard in actively intervening in the U.S. elections and the U.K. Brexit vote. The confirmation by the Mueller indictments of FSB and GRU officers underscored the clear and present danger to the most critically important, existential governance of the nation. Subsequent events have amplified the concern with the emergence of neo-Nazi social media sites bringing about the mass murder at a Pittsburgh Synagogue and Facebook’s being co-opted in active political influence campaigns as a service.

So today, the Open Internet mantra is a hard sell—especially to foreign countries who likely have no interest in suffering the same experiences of the U.S. The mantra should be discarded and re-focused on providing something of considerable current value - effective cyber defense for all communication networks. In many cases, that requires internets that provide effective cyber defense at network gateways and considerably greater attention to the threat vectors like the so-called Pervasive Encryption protocols that exacerbate data exfiltration and malware placement. In many cases involving critical infrastructure, it means ensuring totally closed internets.

If a communication freedom mantra is needed, political leaders should return to the proven legacy norms such as “reachability” and “universality.”

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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Who's line are you pushing Jay Daley  –  Nov 28, 2018 10:37 PM

This is an unusual article in a long line of unusual articles from you that makes me have to ask - are you being paid by an authoritarian government to socialise their view of a heavily regulated national network as the modern norm?

I ask that because I find it very hard to believe, given your history, that you genuinely think that ‘open’ in the open internet means “all computer and network resources belong to everyone in the world for the taking and exploitation” as nobody has ever claimed it has meant that and in saying that you are of course ignoring the real meaning of the term.

Then there’s your unusual hat nod to Louis Pouzin.  Now nobody denies he was a pioneer but you rather unusually mention him in a way that deliberately denies the contributions of the many US scientists who actually created the internet and whom I’m sure you know personally.

And then of course there’s your extraordinary attack on encryption as ” protocols that exacerbate data exfiltration and malware placement”.

All in all this is a very strange series of articles.

It is not complicated Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 29, 2018 12:00 AM

If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain

Like Lukasik, I’m atoning for my sins.  In his case, for having approved TCP/IP development, in my case for having furthered the fictions and promoted its use in the public infrastructure.

No evidence of a Conservative here The Famous Brett Watson  –  Dec 1, 2018 12:11 AM

Anthony, you have mistaken Authoritarianism for Conservatism. The two aren’t particularly related, as the plentiful examples of Marxist Authoritarianism in the world demonstrate. I haven’t seen much in the way of evidence that you hold views which could be properly classified as either Liberal or Conservative. As Jay points out, the consistent thread which runs through your writing is Authoritarianism, and opposition to things you consider to promote Anarchy. I, too, am mildly curious as to whether there is some financial weight backing your frequent sermons, but one can never expect an honest answer to such a question, so it’s best not to ask (unless you just want to see what style of evasion is solicited in response).

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