The internet is now so centralized that a company can break it | Panda Anku

We are now at a point where the Internet is so centralized that a single company can bring it to its knees. What began 53 years ago as a military communications system and evolved into a fundamental human right is now so interconnected that any fallibility could wreak havoc and affect millions of people.

Today’s ubiquitous Internet began as a truly decentralized communications system. Beginning with ARPANET and progressing to the launch of the World Wide Web, the decentralized nature of the Internet endured until the Web became increasingly important and important. After that, centralized services and providers emerged that enhanced the user experience at the time, but also made it vulnerable.

Gone are the days of downloading software to install on a computer or server for yourself or your employees. Now we can open a browser and do almost anything without installing an app.

It all just sits on the cloud.

As with all marketplaces, only a small number of companies have emerged as leading providers of global cloud services. While simplifying the bigger picture, given the importance of cloud-based solutions, one could argue that the modern internet is powered by Facebook, Google, Apple, Tencent, Alibaba, and Amazon.

Even if you look beyond cloud providers, the story of the continued centralization of the internet is similar.

Acquired after its own messenger app, Meta owns almost all instant messaging communications in non-Chinese regions. Owning Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, Meta dominates the delivery of our conversations with each other. In China, the two most popular messaging apps, WeChat and QQ, are owned by Tencent and are responsible for almost every communication and transaction within the country.

We could go on. Almost all data transported around the world goes through the 25 largest telecommunications companies and almost all smartphones run on a choice of two operating systems. The intended decentralized design of the internet is threatened in almost every way, and with centralization comes greater risk.

On June 21, 2022, Cloudflare — a content delivery network and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) defense company — suffered an outage that impacted traffic across 19 data centers. These 19 locations handle a significant portion of global traffic. An error in their transmission to the internet routing protocol led to an outage that corrupted some of the most well-known and important websites and services, including Discord, Shopify, and Peloton.

The issues were problematic for users of Cloudflare’s DNS lookup service, but were far-reaching for every internet user. By some estimates, this outage affected 90% of the internet, and it’s not a “black swan” moment – there have been hundreds of outages since early 2022.

Blockchain and Web3 solutions are not immune to failures of current Internet technologies. Since most Web3 projects are hosted on cloud services like AWS, this outage shut down many supposedly decentralized Web3 apps and services.

The question we need to ask is how do we make this originally decentralized internet so centralized that a failure of a single provider can destroy it.

Centralization is the product of those who have seized the opportunity to get ahead of the rest. There is nothing malicious about Cloudflare – it provides an excellent and much-needed service to millions. Customers were drawn to it by providing the perceived best service and value. But as a result, everything from your blog to huge companies depends on its service.

So while the protocols that make the internet exist and work are decentralized, certain services have near-monopolistic control because, in the beginning, they were the best options available to scale and protect it.

And now the infrastructure is monopolized; If it goes down, the entire internet goes down.

The scale of this problem is almost too great to imagine, and it’s only getting worse. The internet will grow 30-fold in the next eight years.

Before we look at what can be done, we need to understand why the current Internet is not fit for the future.

The Internet runs on a routing protocol called BGP (The Border Gateway Protocol), which engineers sketched out on the back of “three ketchup-stained napkins” in 1989.

It’s served us well for a while and we’ve made many upgrades to alleviate its problems, but ultimately these are patches and not the long-term surgery required.

The problem with the modern Internet is that it is essentially a series of private networks operated by individual ISPs. Everyone has a network, and most connections occur between those networks. Even if you’re chatting with your co-worker on Zoom and you live in a city (or are in the same apartment), that signal is likely to travel much further.

Your physical atoms may be five meters apart, but the pixels that show your two-dimensional shape to each other could have been on a transatlantic voyage.

Networks are managed locally only. Routing decisions are made locally by the providers using the BGP protocol. There is no shared knowledge and no one controls the entire path of connection.

Using these public ISPs is like using public transportation. You have no control over where it goes. Vendors own the cables and everything else. In this system, ISPs have no incentive to provide good service.

And we’re not talking about the speed of your internet at home. We are talking about connecting the ISP to services such as Netflix.

That was the origin of the fight for net neutrality in the US. Netflix was sending out too much data (about 1GB of data per hour for streaming a standard definition TV show or movie, and up to 3GB of data per hour when streaming HD video), and ISPs in the US threatened to cap it, if Netflix didn’t pay.

And so it goes. The only way to get more reliable service is to pay ISPs a lot for high-speed private connections. This is the only way large technology companies like Amazon can operate their data centers. But the biggest irony is that there is enough infrastructure to handle much more growth.

70% of internet infrastructure is unused because nobody knows about these routes and ISPs don’t have a great solution to monetize them when needed. They prefer to work on the basis of fixed, predetermined contracts that take a long time to negotiate and sign.

There are other problems. For example, the Cloudflare outage happened because the internet is built on trust. The network expects everyone to be a good actor, and when someone, malicious or not, sends false information, it can easily break.

We trust these actors. We trust these centralized providers. In fact, we trust organizations to keep our sensitive information and the internet as a whole private.

The HTTPS protocol ensures that the data we send, whether a personal photo or a credit card number, is encrypted. However, this encryption is based on a certificate provided by a specific organization like LetsEncrypt. If someone tampers with it, or if a government orders everyone to install their certificate, all of your data is available to them.

That’s why trustworthy Systems are essential. It’s not just a marketing term invented by the preachers at Web3. The system is not vulnerable to multiple attack vectors and can survive even in a hostile environment.

Blockchain offers a natural solution to this problem. At a fundamental level, this technology allows us to create decentralized systems that are inherently secure and can be managed without a single central entity.

It can also be inherently private due to public key encryption. Public-key cryptography is a cryptographic system that uses pairs of private and public keys. Anyone in the system can encrypt a message using the intended recipient’s public key, but that encrypted message can only be decrypted using the recipient’s private key.

Imagine a system where participants like content companies like Netflix and ISPs can dynamically buy and sell bandwidth, transfer their data in the best possible way, and avoid being stuck behind a centralized provider, which used to be the only way to scale reach. Users, in turn, get a more reliable connection with lower latency, which isn’t that important for web browsing, but is crucial for online gaming and future Metarverse applications.

Bloomberg estimates that the metaverse industry will be worth $800 billion by 2024 based on its analysis and data from Newzoo, IDC, PWC, Statista and Two Circles. This will require significant additional investment in Internet infrastructure. The software we use to run it must be able to support the growth we envision and be consistent with the decentralized principles that are one of the cornerstones of Metaverse and Web3.

The demands of future media channels and technologies, such as AR glasses or any version of the metaverse, will surpass anything the current version of the internet can offer us now. And the more significant the role it plays in our lives, the clearer the consequences of failure will be. It is time to resolve this issue before we lose access to this basic human right for so long that it results in significant economic, infrastructural and personal losses that affect our well-being.

Domas Povilauskas, co-founder and CEO of Syntropy.

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