Parents come in all shapes, sizes, talents, and abilities – especially when it comes to their ability to grasp the technical complexities necessary to keep their children safe and secure online. The security of children is what keeps us going at Netsanity. Netsanity was founded in 2013 by “Parent Technologists” with the goal of simplifying the technical complexities involved with the ever-changing always-evolving techno-sphere we call the Internet.
This post is the first installment in a 3-part series that will focus on defining the basics of what the internet is, how the internet works, and some of the technologies that Netsanity employs to protect your children on mobile devices. This post will focus on a basic understanding of the Internet, and will be followed by posts about Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and the Domain Name System (DNS). At the end of the series, you won’t get a certificate that will land you a job, but hopefully, you will be better informed about some technologies used to protect your child’s online experience.
Before we get into the details, I find it easier to understand technologies that exist today by first understanding where things began: So, here is a little history lesson:
A Short History Of The Internet
The Internet was born out of a Department of Defense (reason for acronym proliferation in tech?) funded project known as ARPANET which started as a memorandum describing a concept known as the “Intergalactic Computer Network” — oh boy! Bob Taylor, director of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (later founded Xerox PARC’s Computer Science Laboratory), was sitting in his office which had three different terminals connected to researchers at SDC Q-32 in Santa Monica, California, Project Genie at UC Berkeley, and MIT. In order to communicate with the researchers, Taylor would have to move around to each terminal and enter different commands at each — (using my best Gru impression from Despicable Me [Credits] ) “Liggght Buulllbbb!” Since then, the ease and speed at which “computers” can communicate with each other have increased exponentially.
So, what does this have to do with where we are today? Those little devices that your children interact with are computers that talk with other computers using the concepts first derived from the “Intergalactic Computer Network” memorandum. Well, we aren’t quite at the “Intergalactic” level of communicating, but we certainly are very, very efficient at communicating with anyone (and everyone for some) around the globe. And a lot of that interaction is done in the form of bits and bytes sent over the global interconnection of computers – aka the Internet. What is interesting, is that everything from Snaps, Posts, and iMessages arrive at their respective destinations in the same way over the Internet. Conceptually this is done using a model known as the Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI model for short).
The Open Systems Interconnection Model Explained…
I’m not going to go to deep into OSI, but here’s a visual. In “Star Trek“, Captain Kirk would have Scotty beam him to different destinations around the galaxy using the Enterprise’ “Transporter” room. The “Transporter” would break down Kirk’s cellular structure and quickly send him, presumably as light particles (fastest way to travel), to his destination of choice. Somehow, at the destination, Kirk would get pieced back together and take human-form again – with great cinematic flair of course. That is essentially what the OSI model does.
Here’s another example, say you have an Image of little Bobby that you want to share on Facebook (please not another food image!). To get that to show up on Grandma’s Facebook feed, you have to “transport” that image from your machine to one owned by Facebook so that they can “transport” it to Grandma’s iPhone. In the process, our computers take that lovely picture of little Bobby, and breaks it into really small packets of digital information (1 and 0’s), opens a connection (or uses an already open connection) with the internet and tells the internet where to send the image packets. In most cases, because light is the fastest way to travel, the packets are converted to beams of light hurtling towards their destination. However, unlike Captain Kirk, we don’t have direct connections between our computers and Facebook’s, our image packets have to pass through several gateways that know how to forward our image packets on, closer and closer to its destination. When all the packets have arrived at the destination, the destination computer puts the pieces back together in the right order, and now Facebook has a copy of our image stored that it can share with our friends and family members. Coincidentally, the whole process is done over-and-over again between Facebook and grandma’s (or any other friend’s) computer so that they can see the image of little Bobby doing something amazing.
There are three main differences between our Image to Facebook example and Captain Kirk’s “Transporter”.
- First, in our example, the world ends up with potentially thousands of little images of our Bobby; whereas, the “Transporter” ensured that the galaxy could only end up with a single copy of Kirk.
- Second, there wasn’t an exploitable “open door” in the Enterprise’s “Transporter” room that Kligons could manipulate; however, opening a connection to the internet creates an exploitable “port” opening us, and our children, up to attack from malicious members of the Internet’s underworld.
- Finally, the Enterprise’s “Transporter” had one job — get Captain Kirk from A to B in human form; whereas, our devices and the apps and browsers have several jobs — mostly ones that we subject ourselves, and our children, to for convenience, such as allowing businesses to capitalize on our screen-time and keep us interacting. And, I don’t know about you, but my experience is that some of these “portals” are very, very good at their jobs and some are so bad that you end up in a place you didn’t want to or need to know existed.
The “Intergalactic Computer Network” is a very complex ecosystem of computers, with endpoints coming and going on the network continuously. The Netsanity team is committed to helping you with the mission of keeping your most prized possessions safe while they are online. In the next article, I will provide you with an overview of Virtual Private Networks and how we utilize them in our mission of online security.
Matt Price, CTO, Netsanity