Blocking Websites

Today’s announcement by the military that they’re blocking a dozen popular websites from Department of Defense computer networks says the actions were done not for productivity reasons, or with network security in mind, but to conserve bandwidth.

I have to wonder just how honest they’re really being.

If you believe the military, they have no problems per se with the websites they’re blocking; indeed, their spokesperson, Julie Ziegenhorn, goes out of her way to point out that they’re not passing judgment on any of the sites in question. Rather, they say, the problem is that the multimedia being viewed on these sites – streaming video and audio – are consuming too much bandwidth.

Here’s the thing, though – there are other, far technologically better, ways to solve that problem than blocking a mere dozen domains. QOS and TOS provide a good starting point. Even more effective is blocking port 80 traffic that’s not of a handful of more benign MIME types.

The problem is, the military is being schizophrenic and taking half-measures to address what they perceive as a problem. Rather than blocking the culprit – streaming media – they’re blocking a dozen domains, leaving personnel free to stream audio from, for example, the BBC, or even Cambridge University Radio. There’s nothing stopping them from from streaming video off, say, Fox News’ website, or even Google Video. And if they do want to view a blocked site on a government computer, it looks like there is nothing to stop them using a web proxy (like this one) other than a well-developed sense of right and wrong.

If the ban is really about bandwidth usage, blocking multimedia MIME types at the network level, or rate-limiting multimedia traffic to a painfully low level, are better options than arbitrarily denying access to a small number of popular sites. If it’s about something else – productivity issues, for example – the Department of Defense had ought to be honest enough to admit it.

It’s not that blocking access to MySpace, YouTube, and so on is a bad idea – far from it. It isn’t that the announced reason for the block is that prepopsterous, either. Rather, it’s that not only is the “solution” not a great way to address the problem, but short-sighted and doomed to quite imminent failure. It’s the medium they need to be addressing, not the messengers.

Today, YouTube, MySpace, and PhotoBucket. Tomorrow, because this “fix” only addresses the symptoms, not the problem, it’ll probably be Flickr, PBase, and Google. Next week, RapidShare, MegaUpload, and perhaps Blogspot. Next month? Who knows…

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General, Security | on May 14th, 2007| Comments Off on Blocking Websites

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