About the future of the Internet

Researchers have been working on improvements since the Internet was established. The future architecture SCION  is also constantly being improved, among others by specialist Adrian Perrig from ETH Zurich. In this interview he explains how he and his team develop multi-path communication systems and attack defense approaches.

What was your original motivation to design SCION?

Adrian Perrig: We tried to determine what level of security can be achieved for a global public Internet. Once we know how secure it can be, we know better what changes may be needed to protect the current Internet.

Many people hardly know anything about TCP/IP and other protocols. When they talk about problems with the Internet, they usually address our interaction with online services or bandwith issues, but not concerns about. Please explain to or readers: What are the problems of the traditional Internet that are solved by SCION?

Numerous control-plane and data-plane communication problems are solved, the list has over 30 real-world problems that are resolved. For the regular user, this will simply mean better Internet connectivity in terms of reliability and speed. More concretely, these are some of the major advantages of SCION:

  • High availability through multi-path communication
  • Routing attacks are not possible any more, for instance paths that cannot be hijacked.
  • Client path control, ensuring that a packet will only traverse ASes that were specified in the forwarding path. This can help with communication compliance, that sensitive traffic did not leave a jurisdiction.
  • Guaranteed communication despite DDoS attacks.

Why is it so important to solve these problems? Who and what is at risk because of these problems? Why are the problems relevant for the emerging digital society?

Our society relies on the Internet for numerous aspects. Often, we only realize this when the Internet is not working. In fact, almost all critical infrastructures rely on the Internet in some way. Enabling communication in the face of errors, attacks, and equipment failures will support numerous processes our society relies on.

Some of our readers are particularly interested in the transfer from science to practice. Where is SCION already in use? Can you tell us something about practical experiences?

Several ISPs are already deploying SCION today. In Switzerland, Swisscom, SWITCH, and Init7 offer SCION connections, with others soon to follow. Several customers are already using SCION for production traffic, to achieve highly available communication. So far, the customers realize the advantages and would like to use SCION wherever available. Once one experiences the advantages of multi-path communication, fast failover, and path-aware networking, the question is not whether we should switch to a new Internet — but rather why did we not switch to an Internet earlier that supports these properties?

Let us talk about business aspects. You have founded Anapaya together with your ETH fellows David Basin and Peter Müller. Which services based on SCION are available? Who would particularly benefit from the use of these services ? And: What are the costs involved?

Several ISPs are starting to offer SCION connectivity, enabling customers to obtain strong communication properties. The cost for a customer lies between a regular Internet connection and a local leased line, although the pricing needs to be set by the ISPs. Currently, the main entities exploring the technologies are banks and government.

To look into the futures, is there ongoing R&D related to SCION. What are the challenges you and your team are working on right now?

After 50 years, researchers are still working on improving the Internet. Similarly, there will be continued research on SCION to study further improvements. Our team is currently working on designing multi-path communication systems and quantifying their advantages over today’s Internet. We are also building attack defense approaches on top of SCION to achieve global communication guarantees. In general, the research is very exciting, as SCION enables us to achieve properties that we have not thought to be achievable in today’s Internet.

We have the tradition to close interviews with a question about the distant or mid-distant future. How will the future Internet look like? Say, how will the Internet in 2035 differ from the internet today? Which role could be played by SCION?

Multi-path communication is so compelling that any future Internet will need to offer it. Similarly for path-aware networking. Similarly for secure routing and forwarding. SCION can provide all these properties today and will hopefully continue to increase in use so by 2025 we can all use it on our commodity devices — enjoying a better communication experience without necessarily knowing why.


About Adrian Perrig

Adrian Perrig is a Swiss computer science researcher specializing in the areas of security, networking, and applied cryptography. From 2002 to 2012, he was a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering and Public Policy, and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, becoming Full Professor in 2009. From 2007 to 2012, he served as the technical director for Carnegie Mellon’s Cybersecurity Laboratory (CyLab). Since 2013, he is a Professor at ETH Zürich, leading the Network Security research group.


About SCION

SCION is a proposed Future Internet Architecture that aims to offer high availability and efficient point-to-point packet delivery, even in the presence of actively malicious network operators and devices. As of 2018 it is an ongoing research project lead by researchers at ETH Zurich and, among other Future Internet proposals, is being explored in the Internet Engineering Task Force research group for path-aware networking.

AUTOR/AUTORIN: Reinhard Riedl

Reinhard Riedl heads the BFH Centre Digital Society and edits the online magazine SocietyByte. He was president of the Swiss Informatics Society and the International Society for New Music Bern IGNM.

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