There has been a heated discussion about this Washington Post article on the nanog mailinglist about a fundamental issue that underpins the entire internet: the ability of every network on the internet to reach every other network. Or at least most of the time; read this excellent summary from Renesys for more on how the internet works together to achieve this. 

The article is about the company Atriva, also know as Intercage, which is alleged to host lots of malware and spam hosts from the US. In the days since the article was published, it appears that GBLX, which used to be their main transit provider, has stopped providing them with internet access. While the initial reactions were quite positive, it sparked a lively debate about whether or not this is actually a good idea. Some highlights:

Paul Ferguson states the most likely result:

My only concern here is that by the publicity this issue continues to receive, these activities will just move else where, like scurrying cockroaches (like what happened with AS40989).

Valdis Kletnieks offers another point of view:

If somebody’s paying you $n/megabyte for transit/connectivity, what’s your incentive to make them clean up their act and get rid of their P2P filesharing traffic, spam traffic, and so on? Serious question, that – how many long-haul providers would be in serious trouble if all the spam and filesharing suddenly stopped and only legitimate traffic travelled through their pipes?

After some more discussion about getting “scum” off the internet, Steven Bellovin posted this list:

Consider the following cases, which I will assert are not very far-fetched:

(a) China labels Falun Gong as “scum” and demands that international ISPs not carry it if they want to do business in China

(b) Russia labels critics of Putin and Medvedev as “scum” and demands that international ISPs bar their traffic if they want to do business in Russia

(c) Saudi Arabia denounces Internet pornographers as “scum” and demands that ISPs bar their traffic if they want their countries to be able to purchase oil

(c) France and Germany label EBay as “scum” for not barring sales of Nazi memorabilia and demands that international ISPs not carry it if they want to do business in the EU

(d) The RIAA and MPAA label file-sharers as “scum” and deny combined TV/ISP companies (cable ISPs, Verizon FIOS, etc.) access to any *broadcast* content if the ISP side doesn’t crack down on file-sharing.

After which Valdis finishes this thread with:

For the sake of discussion, I was calling “scum” “any entity that your morals say you shouldn’t accept money from, but your accountant says you should”….

What that makes your accountant… is another discussion entirely :)

This discussion offers a great example of the issues network operators have to deal with on a daily basis. Valdis’ last reply sums it up perfectly: the main operators have to choose between being good netizens and making a living on a daily basis. The spread of malware on the internet won’t stop until there is a financial incentive to stop providing criminals with internet access, but the downside of that is that the internet as we know it will disappear; there will be dark spots on the internet which are unable to reach parts of the net.