Ralph Droms: My influ­ence actu­al­ly start­ed back around 1989 when I start­ed work­ing with the IETF. I had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to lead the Dynamic Host Configuration Working Group which devel­oped the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. We worked on that pro­to­col and pub­lished it final­ly about 1995. It was picked up by Windows 95, picked up by Microsoft. It was inte­grat­ed into the Microsoft Server. And so as Windows 95 came out, it rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way in which devices would con­nect to the Internet. Prior to that time, there was a lot of man­u­al con­fig­u­ra­tion that you’d have to go through. You’d have to type in a lot of address­es and sub­net masks and oth­er kinds of con­fig­u­ra­tion infor­ma­tion. All that was tak­en away by DHCP, done auto­mat­i­cal­ly. So you can just turn on your com­put­er, plug it in, and it would get the DHCP infor­ma­tion and take off. 

A few years lat­er, we did the same thing for IPv6. You’ve heard of IPv6, is the new ver­sion of the IP pro­to­col. And we need­ed that same func­tion­al­i­ty for DHCPv6 so we worked on that pro­to­col and in fact pub­lished it in 2003. In fact we just cel­e­brat­ed the tenth anniver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of DHCPv6 ear­li­er this week. 

So, DHCP’s real­ly had a strong influ­ence on the Internet. It real­ly auto­mat­ed the process of get­ting devices con­nect­ed to the Internet and it’s the thing that makes it pos­si­ble to take your lap­top at home, turn it on, con­nect wire­less­ly, and not have to do any con­fig­u­ra­tion, any kind of work to get it to con­nect to the Internet. It just con­nects and starts working. 

Intertitle: Describe one of the break­through moments or move­ments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.

Droms: There are a cou­ple relat­ed to this ini­tial work on DHCP. The first is, to give you an idea of how things have changed over the years, the rea­son I took on the DHC Working Group is that the chair of the IETF at the time had been a grad stu­dent with me a few years before that at Penn State University. And so he and I were hav­ing a social vis­it, enjoy­ing a social vis­it, and we got togeth­er and he told me about the IETF and told me about this con­fig­u­ra­tion prob­lem. And I thought gee, that sounds like a real­ly inter­est­ing thing to do. So, I went to the first IETF meet­ing that I went to, it was in Cocoa Beach, 1989. We formed the DHC Working Group, and took off from there. 

And the part of that that was real­ly inter­est­ing to me was that we had col­lab­o­ra­tion amongst of all the major com­put­er ven­dors, includ­ing both PC ven­dors and oth­er larg­er sys­tem vendors…collaboration togeth­er to bring this pro­to­col about. That is there was no com­pe­ti­tion about it, we sort of checked our ven­dor hats at the door and all worked togeth­er to make DHC come togeth­er. We had peo­ple from Microsoft, from Apple, from Sun Microsystems, from Cisco, and a vari­ety of oth­er ven­dors at the time, all work­ing togeth­er to make this happen. 

Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weath­er anal­o­gy and explain why.

Droms: In my mind very unset­tled. We’re at a time of huge expan­sion of the Internet out­side of the kinds of Internet con­nec­tions and devices that we’re famil­iar with. We’ve seen some of that over the past few years as we’ve moved from lap­tops, desk­top com­put­ers, to smart­phones and tablets and we’ve seen a big increase. Right now instead of a tablet and a lap­top at home, you’ve got a tablet, two iPhones, and a desk­top computer. 

The next big expan­sion is going to be these very tiny lit­tle devices that we’ve come to call the Internet of Things. And I’m work­ing on a project with some stu­dents at Purdue University to pro­vide the IPv6 soft­ware that will run on these Internet of Things devices and we’re gonna go from four or five or a half dozen, maybe ten devices in a home, to per­haps twen­ty or a hun­dred devices in a home. And all of those devices will be direct­ly acces­si­ble from the Internet. 

And what’s unset­tled is how we’re going to keep all of those devices safe and pri­vate and make sure that we have the appro­pri­ate secu­ri­ty and access con­trol in place so that we don’t have prob­lems with peo­ple from the out­side com­ing in and manip­u­lat­ing our heat­ing sys­tems or unlock­ing doors when we don’t want them to be unlocked. So there’s a lot of work to do in that area of secu­ri­ty and that’s the part that’s unset­tled right now. Security’s always the thing that we do last in IETF, and we real­ly need to be in front of that with this par­tic­u­lar expansion. 

Intertitle: What are your great­est hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?

Droms: My hope for the Internet is that as we devel­op these new devices and we pro­vide these addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties to all of the things that oper­ate in your home, in your car, in build­ings, that we can pro­vide an appli­ca­tion devel­op­ment envi­ron­ment that’s open and freely avail­able and that lots of peo­ple can par­tic­i­pate in. 

So just like the devel­op­ment of apps for the iPhone or for Android, we’ll have that same capa­bil­i­ty to devel­op those kinds of appli­ca­tions that can talk direct­ly to the devices in the home, talk to things in your car, and bring them togeth­er using the inno­va­tion of lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple as opposed to just sort of expert pro­gram­mers or peo­ple who under­stand and have built how the net­work works, we want to make it acces­si­ble to a much wider range of people. 

And my big fear for the Internet is the secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy prob­lems. We want to make sure that while we’re doing this we pro­vide the right kind of secu­ri­ty, and we pro­vide the pri­va­cy that we need so that we’re not expos­ing infor­ma­tion that we don’t want to expose.

Intertitle: Is there action that should be tak­en to ensure the best pos­si­ble future?

Droms: Some of the spec­i­fi­ca­tions— The spec­i­fi­ca­tions that we’re devel­op­ing in the IETF take secu­ri­ty into con­sid­er­a­tion. I just fin­ished work­ing between Zigbee Alliance and the IETF on some­thing called the Zigbee IP Specification. It’s a way of run­ning IPv6 out to these Internet of Things devices. And we inte­grat­ed secu­ri­ty into that from the very begin­ning. So when the device comes up on this net­work, it first has to authen­ti­cate itself into the net­work. It has to say you know, I’m allowed to con­nect to this net­work.” And at the same time it checks that the net­work is the net­work that it real­ly wants to con­nect to. So it gets infor­ma­tion back from the net­work that proves to this new device that yes, that’s a good net­work­ing and it allowed to attach to it. So once we have that authen­ti­ca­tion in place, then we can exchange infor­ma­tion so that the device can com­mu­ni­cate secure­ly with all the oth­er devices in the net­work, and it can com­mu­ni­cate pri­vate­ly. It can encrypt its com­mu­ni­ca­tion so that it can’t be lis­tened in on and read by a third par­ty watch­ing the radio communication. 

Intertitle: Is there any­thing else you would like to add?

Droms: One thing is we want to encour­age as much par­tic­i­pa­tion in the IETF or in oth­er places, and as much inno­va­tion as we can, so that we can take advan­tage of all of these new capa­bil­i­ties. We want to have the right pro­gram­ming envi­ron­ments, the right devel­op­ment envi­ron­ment, so peo­ple can real­ly very eas­i­ly take their ideas and put them in into prac­tice real­ly real­ly quick­ly and get famil­iar with doing that at a very young age so that by the time you get to going to col­lege you already have expe­ri­ence with build­ing real com­put­ing devices, doing things with real com­put­ing devices, and you have a real pas­sion and inter­est in build­ing those kinds of tools and systems.