Software is autistic

Marc Smith (not to plug my FT piece two days in a row, but hey) says software is autistic because it has no concept of human relationships. I think of it as toddler-tantrum software. Software will ask you repeatedly for information that you've given before if it's not getting exactly the answer it wants ('Are we there yet?'). That's irritating enough to us humans. But if there's a problem with the software we can close down the program, look for a fix or switch to other software. If those repeated requests are inside a closed system like a router talking to an NTP server ('what's the time NOW?') then the problem doesn't show up until it looks like a DDoS (or until you see the bandwidth bill).

A few years ago NETGEAR put the time server at the University of Wisconsin as the only NTP server some of their routers looked at. Once every second. There's a firmware update that changes the behaviour but how many people upgrade the firmware of their home network? SMC did the same thing to the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization's National Measurement Laboratory. And now an enthusiast who runs a Danish NTP server to provide very precise time measurements to Danish ISPs says D-LINK is flooding it (D-LINK tells Kamp it disagrees and is waiting on legal advice). There's an update to NTP, rather charmingly called Kiss-o'-Death packets, that let a server tell a client to go away. Of course not all NTP implementations respect these...

This is the tragedy of the commons; the common resources contributed to the Internet only work if people are polite and use them when they're appropriate. If developers can't get these things right without laywers spanking them, there will be a good excuse for a two-tier Internet with paid-for prioritised packets and telcos increasing their control. includes both information about the floods and an arguemnt about whether vandalism is a loaded term - Richard Clayton on the detective work - Poul-Henning Kamp on the Danish time server


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