How the IETF plans to protect the web from NSA snooping

An IETF plan looks to HTTP 2.0 to help protect internet users from the NSA.

Speaking at the UN's recent Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia, IETF chair Jari Arkko laid out a plan to protect the U.S. Internet from the NSA's surveillance efforts.

Arkko pointed to current web security protocols, such as SSL, that are enabled only when users access sensitive personal information. With this technology available, there’s no reason the entire web shouldn’t be secured by default, Arkko said. Basically, secure web browsing technology like SSL would be extended to all web services, preventing invasion of privacy for both trivial and sensitive information. The IETF could achieve this by making encryption mandatory as part of the HTTP 2.0 protocol, which is expected to be submitted for consideration as a proposed standard in November 2014.

In order for this approach to be effective, the encryption technology needs to be secure. Arkko pointed to the need to improve encryption technology at large by strengthening the algorithms behind it. A Radio Netherlands Worldwide article on the speech says Arkko’s suggestions aim to obscure all users of all web services in the U.S.

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“In other words: the IETF proposes putting locks in more places and making existing locks harder to pick. If the protocols are applied, intercepting the traffic between any two points on the Internet — the sender and receiver of an email, the visitor and owner of a website, the buyer and seller of a product — will be close to impossible,” the RNW report says.

The IETF is reportedly looking to put this plan into action, at least in some capacity, starting with the IETF-88 event in Vancouver beginning on Nov. 3.

Several experts provided their opinions on the plan to RNW, with the consensus agreeing that it’s an optimistic plan that could be plagued with challenges. One expert said that although the plan “wouldn’t stop the problem,” it could at least cause some difficulty for the NSA.

Meanwhile, Tactical Tech digital security trainer Gillo Cutrupi praised the initiative while warning that many companies and website operators might overlook it, just as they do with the security tools available to them today.

For what it’s worth, Arkko isn’t concerned about adoption issues, pointing to the performance benefits that might drive users to HTTP 2.0 instead. The security improvements would be just an additional feature.

“I have no worry about that,” he said. “Our standards are very widely applied.”

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Ciscoand Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is cneagle@nww.com.

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