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Jon Postel Dies

I feel like the Internet is a little too young to even start thinking about losing to death some of the giants that paved the way for it, but ...

Jon Postel, the director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Author, died Friday. Dr. Postel was heavily involved with the beginnings of the Internet (then ARPANET) and played an integral part in the creation of almost all the major Internet protocols. Often referred to by such terms as "a God" and "the gold standard" by people who have worked with him, he had recently been immersed in the controversial attempts to move control of the Internet out of the hands of the government. He was the first individual member of the Internet Society and continued to serve as a trustee of the Internet Society until his death. He was the custodian of the .US domain. It will surely be a more difficult task to move ahead with new management plans for the Internet domain system without his efforts, and lets hope that the numerous warring factions in that battle can step back for a moment and maybe take some inspiration from one gentleman who made it his life's work to make the Internet work better for everyone. Thanks to Prof. David Farber and Vint Cerf for making sure Jon's accomplishments in life were brought to a wider audience at this sad time. Those of us who didn't know him as other than a name were made to feel the loss, and perhaps we're all a little better people for it having touched us.

AOL Down

America Online, which loves to brag about security and then is so often embarrassed by its lapses, was down for hours Friday due to an apparent prank that worked because the company did not even take elementary steps to protect its own domain registration.

Thirteen million subscribers were unable to receive email or request AOL Web pages Friday morning after a prankster redirected the service's domain name address to a small company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. AOL told Wired news that the address was "inadvertently" changed in the main domain name server that routes mail from the Internet to AOL.

However, there was really nothing inadvertant about it. Someone sent a forged "modify domain" form to Network Solutions, which controls such things, instructing that the domain record for AOL in the root servers for the Internet be changed to Autonet, a networking company. Automatically, this happened at about 4:30 in the morning on Friday, and all AOL mail started bouncing to Autonet.

It took much of the day to completely fix the mess. The question anyone might ask is, "How could this happen to the largest online access company in the world? Doesn't Network Solutions know any better?" The answer is that it's AOL that that chose the default level of security that would allow this to happen without human intervention. As silly as this sounds, for something so critical, I'm willing to bet a lot of companies and individuals owning domains are vulnerable in this same way. Maybe folks want to double-check …

Microsoft, DoJ Go to Court

The legal battle all geeks have been waiting for starts Monday, and it isn't Starr v. Clinton. It's the Department of Justice against Microsoft, and it will go on Monday through Thursday, all day long for the next four to eight weeks. CNet's calling it the "Tech Trial of the Century," and it's hard to argue with that. Most tech trials have been drawn out and deadly dull and get settled. This one has Bill Gates on videotape and a who's who of the computer industry on tap as witnesses, and I for one think it will be more exciting than Bill Clinton's sex life.

Look for the online news services to play this about as big as it gets -- this will be one you'll get to watch and follow online. By the way, does anyone expect MSNBC to cover this fairly? What do you think, guys? How will "Slate" weigh in? Most experts agree that no matter how it comes out, the case will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Son of CDA

It's déjà vu all over again -- Tucked into the $1.7 trillion budget agreement is the Child Online Privacy Act, aka CDA II, aka Son of CDA. Supporters say it was written more narrowly than its predecessor to avoid being found unconstitutional, but opponents says it's the same old, same old nonsense that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and most or all of the major online services and content providers will head back to court, perhaps as soon as this week, to re-enact the battle. Anne Beeson of the ACLU said the bill will once again criminalize socially valuable adult speech and reduce the Internet to what is considered suitable for a 6-year-old. This, from a Congress that released the Starr report in its entirety over the Internet.

Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet can be reached at jeffbot at this domain.