A new protocol initiated by Google could soon make the Internet faster as a central data transporter: Quic. Encryption is also included as standard.
The large platforms in particular have hired hosts of developers to work on accelerating traffic so that the ever-new apps and their content reach the user smoothly.
With the Quic protocol brought in by Google, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the most important standardization organization for the basic Internet protocols, now believes it is a promising successor to the good old one Transport Control Protocol (TCP) to have found.
For 40 years, TCP was regarded as the “workhorse” for transporting data packets. It is the most widely used network transport protocol, writes Geoff Huston, chief scientist at Asia’s IP address registry Apnic and, so to speak, the top “surveyor” in the Internet world. TCP, Huston says, runs in billions of devices today, proof of its flexibility and robustness. “If it wasn’t so solid, we would have found something else long ago.”
Parallel data streams possible
But the network of 2021 looks different than that of 1981, when TCP was published under number RFC 793. Anyone who visits a website today often receives an entire content, advertising and communication portal back with hundreds or thousands of individual elements. This is where the workhorse TCP has its problems. If the connection is lost due to a problem, all elements must be reloaded. That takes time. Quic is supposed to change that because it allows parallel data streams and a lost package from the stream can also be delivered later.
At the same time, the developers have built encryption into Quic. Unsecured connections are excluded with Quic by design. Since the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, TCP traffic has also been secured with the so-called Transport Layer Security Protocol (TLS). But TLS is already firmly integrated in Quic, and the new racehorse hides even more metadata from the eyes of unauthorized third parties, be it secret services or other attackers.
But Snowden’s reminders did not only trigger the integrated encryption. Integration is also more efficient. In addition, Quic tricked all the devices in the network by encrypting them, which in the past decades have made major network modifications almost impossible.
More privacy online
According to developers, the so-called middle boxes, which include firewalls, have literally calcified the data lines. Because Quic reveals little information to the outside world, the middle boxes don’t even see what is happening in the encrypted part of the package. For classic network operators, network researchers and also law enforcement officers, there is less to observe in Quic traffic.
The new transport protocol is definitely an uprising by the young application providers against the old network providers. Quic gives those who offer applications such as browsers more freedom of design. No wonder that companies such as Mozilla, Fastly, Akamai or Cloudflare set the tone in standardization and that the original Quic draft comes from Google.
What do users get out of it? Getting the last bit of effectiveness out, that will probably remain a matter of the big players, for which time gains in the millisecond range are reflected in billions in sales. Nevertheless, “the end users also benefit,” emphasizes the expert Lars Eggert, one of the two bosses of the IETF.
The new protocol is intended to accelerate data transmission, especially in regions where the network is worse than in the big cities of Central Europe. In addition, everyone benefits from increased security.
Researchers from the Human Rights Protocol Considerations working group have come to a similar conclusion. “Quic delivers considerable improvements in fundamental rights”, is the final judgment of Beatrice Martini from Harvard University and Niels ten Oever from the University of Amsterdam.
The latter makes censorship and surveillance more difficult. However, Martini and ten Oever would like to see possible effects with regard to the concentration of information in the hands of a few large providers.
The y also recommend that software for running Quic servers be made widely available to smaller operators.