Encryption: Not just against the bad guys anymore! (or, how Comcast contributes to global warming)

In Part 1, we explored evidence supporting the conclusion that Comcast’s well-known policy of blocking / interfering with p2p file transfers (notably BitTorrent protocol) extends to several other legitimate moderate- to high-bandwidth activities, including collaboration via Lotus Notes, remote desktop applications, FTP, and even sending emails with large attachments. A working temporary solution (again, while counting down the days until FIOS comes to your area) is to just encrypt the hell out of everything, every HTTP request, every email sent, every file uploaded, your freaking grocery list, to force Comcast’s braindead filter to leave it alone.

Now, this misbehavior is bad enough while I’m trying to pirate Linux distros, but when I have to disguise my goddamn EMAIL to get it through? Something is very wrong with this picture.

Now, what does that have to do with global warming, the global war on BitTerrorism (net neutrality), and the price of broadband in China? Simple: Until Net Neutrality is enforced by law, the Comcasts of the world (any similarly shitheaded companies) will increasingly turn to methods such as this (nuking “bad customers”) as a profitable band-aid fix for the problem of rampantly overselling their capacity. As is already happening, users and software will respond by increasingly turning to unnecessary encryption in an effort to keep malicious third parties (in this case the user’s own, paid ISP) from tampering with the stream. If it continues, web sites will switch to using SSL (https:// links) by default to ensure their “eyeballs” can reliably reach the site, and soon, encryption of every last little unimportant snippet of data will be de rigeur to limit packet discrimination.

SSL encryption is a mathematically cumbersome, CPU-hungry process. While an average home PC slurping down Internet packets at a rate limited by the connection speed will not be overly taxed by this, the server that has to perform this encryption for thousands of visitors at a time is working up a sweat. A CPU that’s doing heavy math is consuming more power and generating more heat than one that isn’t. Multiply this by the number of Internet users and encrypted-by-default sites, and you see that you are needlessly wasting a huge amount of power to triple-DES Grandma’s grocery lists, and throwing wads and wads of unnecessary heat into the air.

Encryption also counts on generating a stream that looks like random noise. If you can suss out a pattern in an encrypted stream, chances are you can crack it. Consequently, cryptographic engines take great pains to ensure that the streams they generate do not contain repeating patterns. Compression, meanwhile, depends on identifying repeating, redundant data and optimizing it out. Consequently, encrypted streams are ideally uncompressible, which means all the current “mid-pipe”, bandwidth-saving tricks such as transparently compressing traffic between routers, also go out the window. Bandwidth consumption skyrockets and pipes saturate like never before. (Nevermind that under the current scheme, Comcast is already doing this to itself to some degree – see previous post for how my 1-hour FTP upload becomes an all-day FTP upload, continuously restarting the interrupted transfers from the beginning and saturating my upstream for the whole damn day.)

One Response to “Encryption: Not just against the bad guys anymore! (or, how Comcast contributes to global warming)”

  1. Steve Witham says:

    It sounds like you’re saying the cypherpunks’ dream will come true. If everyone encrypts, people who encrypt don’t stand out anymore. Also, internet wiretapping becomes harder. There is still the problem of visible packet addresses, but if Comcast et al. start discriminating by address, everyone will be forced to use onion routers (& talk about unnecessary cycles there!) too.

    This is my favorite answer to Fermi’s paradox: the reason we don’t see signs of alien civilizations is that the members of an advanced civ all end up encrypting just to protect themselves from other members of the same civ. (& I never thought of it before, but from their own antivirus software too.)

    “Sufficiently advanced communication is indistinguishable from noise.”

    I don’t see the processing cost of crypto as necessarily so great. If you amortize it over the users, it’s like having one more computer. A very tiny portion of our energy use. If demand goes up as you say, there will be more efficient specialized chips. This is one thing that definitely can be done in parallel. Also, crypto is a reversible process, which holds some theoretical efficiency hope.

    As for compression, it is better for both encryption and bandwidth if you do the compression before the encryption. Doing the compression at the endpoints is even easier on bandwidth than in “mid-pipe”. Makes more sense overall.

    Large piles of internet technology are designed as if no one would ever be tempted to do the wrong thing. That’s dumb. Comcast (if they’re doing what you think) isn’t spoiling things so much as bursting an illusion. There always have been & always were going to be people misbehaving. The internet answer was, “Oh please don’t!” & now with proposed “net neutrality” legislation: “Thou Shalt Not spoil the illusion.” Man I would rather have crypto than a law.

    Oh & hai i commented yr poast.

    –Steve

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