Blown To Bits

Big Brother on Your Network

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

I got an email yesterday from a sales agent for Palisade Systems, which offers a product called PacketSure. The “Packet” in that name refers to Internet packets, the little blocks of bits that are the unit of information the Internet transports. And “Sure” means that the product will make sure the packets going into and out of your business won’t contain information you’d rather not see crossing the boundary into and out of the outside world. For example, movies you don’t want your employees wasting their time watching, or Social Security Numbers that might be client or employee data leaking out, or medical records which are private by law. The web site has a short demo video that gives the idea.

As originally conceived, the Internet was simply a packet delivery system. A computer at a junction point in the network was just supposed to look at the address part of the packets so it could send them off on the proper outgoing link. Those computers were slow enough that it wasn’t practical for them to do much more anyway in the way of peeking inside packets, and it also wasn’t feasible to do much scanning of bits as they entered or left host computers at the edge of the Internet.

With faster computers and much more concern about undesirable uses of the Internet, it is now possible, as the email I received states, “to manage communications across over 150 different protocols and¬†applications ‚Ķ¬†to block, log,¬†report, and alert based on company policy.” Not only possible — it may well be wise or even necessary, given the variety of laws and regulations now in place about appropriate handling of data.

But the “based on company policy” part makes this technology much more than a tool for legal compliance. It gives the company complete control over the web sites employees are allowed to visit, the content of their email, and the use of office computers for sharing pictures. It is as though your office phone were locked to work only with certain other phone numbers, and was subject to a constant wiretap to boot. (Except that, I suspect, most personal communication out of offices these days probably goes by IM or email: Telephone conversations are less private because they are audible.)

Questions: If there were a home version of this product, would you buy it to keep your children in line? Should a university install these boxes to monitor or prevent students’ illegal music and movie downloading? If you were the government of Myanmar, would you want to install the system for the entire country?

Like so many other ingenious and useful technologies, this one is wonderful or terrible, depending on how it is used. A few years ago, no one needed to face the question of whether such systems were good or bad, because there was no practical way to build them. Now they exist, and they will keep getting cheaper and better. And I’m sure no one from Palisade Systems does ethics checks on its customers before shipping the PacketSure products.

5 Responses to “Big Brother on Your Network”

  1. Patrick Edwards Says:

    Who was the salesperson do you have thier contact information

  2. Harry Lewis Says:

    Why don’t you contact me at the email address shown on the Contact tab and I will pass it along.
    Harry

  3. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    My friend on Orkut shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came to your blog.

  4. Larry Luke Says:

    Do you outsource your graphic work for your website? I like them and would be interested in knowing who did yours!

  5. Leslie P. Says:

    I keep hearing about this stuff. Really interesting. I have looked online and found some other blogs that offer some information, but not as much as on this site. Your blog is definitely going in my subscription program!