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Protocol issues

TCP/IP protocol

TCP (The Transport Control Protocol) in particular has come in for significant criticism, and a growing body of experts believe it will need to be replaced. Indeed, if it were easy to replace a fundamental Internet Protocol, this may have been done some time ago. It's the complexity of the change management problem that has delayed action rather than lack of recognised need for change.

Particular issues with TCP/IP include:

The study concludes that TCP - if not TCP/IP - needs to be replaced, probably within a five to ten year time frame. The major issue to overcome is the migration issue which is discussed below.


Each host on the Internet can be located via an IP number. The Domain Name System (DNS) maps the numbers to names of hosts or websites (eg, ). Thus, when a user enters a name, the Internet knows which number to send the query to by looking up the DNS database.

It should be noted that the other widespread user of distributed network infrastructure, the telephone system, operates quite differently. It has no domain name equivalent with trade mark implications in normal uses - to contact a telephone address, you simply enter the number.

The DNS was introduced in 1984, several years before commercial traffic was able to be part of the Internet. At the same time, a public database called Whois was introduced, essentially to allow technical managers of hosts to contact their peers. This is the Internet equivalent of a telephone directory, but also serves a number of related purposes.

One issue with DNS is that it has not been possible to use native languages in email addresses, domain names, and the WHOIS database. This poses significant barriers to adoption for non-English speaking people.

The main problems here are that

Internationalised domain names (IDNs) have become a fundamental part of and an iconic symbol for the digital divide issue. ICANN has been criticised at its regular Public Forums for not giving the matter sufficient attention, failing to make significant progress, and being negative in its analysis of this issue. The Internet Analysis Report - 2004 examines this issue in detail.

Other issues with DNS include:

These are again problems that need to be addressed in a five year timeframe at the outside - some of them would be best handled more quickly if possible.

SMTP and Email protocols

To all intents and purposes, email is already broke, and must be fixed. The Internet's first and greatest killer application is now problematic.

In a survey examining email usage in 2003, the Pew Internet Project found that

Costs associated with spam have been estimated by various research firms at between $10 billion (European Union, 2004) and $87 billion (Nucleus Research, 2003) per annum. Spam volume is now estimated to exceed legitimate email volume; in May 2004, 76 percent of inbound e-mails scanned by email security provider MessageLabs Ltd were spam, up from 67 percent a month earlier.

ICANN claims spam issues as out of scope. " issues of concern to Internet users, such as the rules for financial transactions, Internet content control, unsolicited commercial email (spam), and data protection are outside the range of ICANN's mission of technical coordination" (ICANN website). IETF has been very slow at doing anything in this field, preferring to leave investigation of the issues to a separate Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) group.

As a result, there is a general belief that nothing technical can be done to prevent spam. However, our analysis suggests that the existing protocols are significant contributors to the problem, and protocol reform could see spam volume drop by at least 80%.

SMTP, the basic email standard, is the online equivalent of borders without checkpoints and passports, or bank vaults without doors and locks. Some of the SMTP security weaknesses are:

These issues have been known for some time. Various attempts to provide improved protocols have been undertaken, but essentially have resulted in a mass of conflicting systems and standards. As a result, change is becoming more complex to initiate.

Email upgrades are complicated by

The Internet Analysis Report - 2004 analyses recent IETF work in this area and concludes that both governance issues and protocol reform need to be addressed to provide a more comprehensive solution.




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