IP Address Shortage Spurs Black Market

IP Address Shortage Spurs Black Market

by Alyssa P. Hacker

Although M.I.T. owns one of the few Class A Internet Protocol (IP) address spaces in the world, the now famous ``Net 18'', there is a campus shortage of available addresses. Not a real shortage, mind you, but an artificial shortage created by Information Systems controlling and rationing the available subnets. I/S claims that proactive measures are prudent and necessary, but critics point out that out of the sixteen million possible addresses of the form 18.*.*.*, there are only about thirteen thousand hosts on MITnet.

Jeffrey Schiller, M.I.T.'s Network Manager, seems rational enough. ``We must plan for the future,'' he explains. ``The number of hosts at M.I.T. has been rising exponentially for years, and will for years to come. We are just starting to see some of the technologies that will burden our IP address space in the future. If we didn't charge $2000 a month for a Class C subnet (with space for 255 hosts of the form 18.n.n.*), people would be just throwing away useful address space.''

IP Addressable Light Fixtures

Schiller's favorite examples of future technology that will be IP-address hungry are Networked Light Fixtures. ``Imagine an office filled with light fixtures on the network: their status could be queried from any point on the network, energy usage could be centrally or remotely tracked, and authorized managers could turn them on and off. You could literally finger and telnet to your lights! Imagine this with all the thousands of light fixtures at M.I.T.; this kind of technology requires that we plan for a great future need.''

But there are other, more realistic needs, he adds. The next wave of computing might very well be desktop symmetric multiprocessing machines, computers with more than one computer inside. Machines are available now with anywhere between 2 to 65,000 processors. In some configurations, administrators may wish to assign an IP address to each processor. ``A Connection Machine could occupy an entire Class B subnet [using 65,535 IP-addresses of the form 18.n.*.*]!''

Current developments at M.I.T. are also putting a drain of the address space. Under the Residential Networking Initiative, or ``ResNet'', dormitories, fraternities, and other independent living groups are given access to MITnet. With this access goes a huge chunk of MIT's IP address space. ``Just to make the routing simpler, each fraternity is assigned a Class B network. That's nuts!'' says Ward Lesser, Network Administrator for the Department of Electrical Engineering. ``That's as much as the Media Lab! No frat is going to have thousands of machines.''

Departments, Users Suffering

Many departments are suffering due to this shortage, especially those that rely heavily on computers in their curriculum, namely the Media Laboratory, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Laboratory for Computer Science, and the Department of Electrical Engineering. ``We've only been assigned a Class B network,'' sighs Matt Knudsen, Network Manager at L.C.S., ``While that seems like a lot, it only allows us around 200 subnets. Do you know how many computers there are in this department, and in this building? We don't want 200 machines on every subnet.''

Due to this shortage, some departments have had to implement IP saving measures of their own. ``Jeff Schiller is right, IP addressable equipment is on its way, but it's happening now, not five years from now,'' explains Lesser. ``FDDI hubs now require their own IP address for management, so I have to decommission X-terminals in the labs to deploy one because of the Schiller iron grip. The ultimate victims of this are students. I want to deploy more X-terminals in the teaching labs and electronic classrooms, not less, but whenever I mention it to Network Services, I get Jeff talking out of his hairy ass about FTP-lightbulbs.''

George Maxwell, researcher with the Research Laboratory for Electronics, has another view. ``IP addressable appliances are coming, but who is going to develop them? M.I.T. can't do it unless Network Services gives us the address space to play with!'' He concedes that running out of available address space could be a grave problem, ``but it's happening in the real world, right now. By the time that M.I.T. starts running low on IP addresses, the outside world will already have moved away from 32-bit addresses to solve the very real shortage that they're facing now. M.I.T. just has its head in the sand on this issue.''

B.Y.O. ``IP''

Some UROP students have reported that professors at the Media Lab and the A.I. Lab demand that students bring their own IP address to work with them. ``Before booting the workstation on my desk, I have to enter a unique IP address for it,'' says Ben Bitdiddle, UROP student at the Media Lab. ``But that's okay, I just shut off the machine in my dorm room before I come to work, and use that one.''

Which brings us to what some people call the source of the problem. Under ResNet, dormitories and fraternities are assigned Class B networks with over 65,000 available addresses. However, no fraternity we talked to had more that 100 machines running in their house, not even enough to tax a Class C address space.

House Presidents were uncharacteristically glib about what they were doing with the unused addresses. ``We are not using them,'' said David Conway, President of Chi Phi in Boston. ``No further comments.'' When shown evidence that they are in use, he repeated, ``We are not using them.''

An anonymous junior at TEP shed some light on the answer, though. ``Let's just say the House GPA jumped half a point last term.''

But fraternities aren't the only ones involved with disappearing IP addresses. Looking over the records at East Campus, many students have two or three IP addresses assigned to them, and one student had 154. When asked about the possibility that there addresses probably ended up on a ``black market'', the East Campus Residence Computing Consultant stated, ``I'm just doing my job. People ask for an IP address for their machine, and I give it to them. No more questions! No speaka Ingles!''

Dealing IP

Just as with other black markets of the twentieth century, students involved with selling and trading IP addresses, or ``dealing IP'' as it is called in the dark basements and dangerous streets of M.I.T., turn to other crimes, such as fraud and prostitution. ``The temptation is there,'' states Anne Glavin, Chief of Campus Police. ``Anytime a commodity is priced artificially high, a black market appears. We've seen it before at M.I.T. with heroin and DRAM chips. There's even a black market for donuts right here in C.P. Headquarters because of ARA overpricing!''

Some particularly desperate professors in the Media Lab have been accused of trading grades for IP addresses. However, Department Headquarters issued a stern rebuttal. In a typed statement, they said ``Sheesh. Like it was hard to get an A in a Media Arts and Sciences Course before this. Thbbbpt!''

But some people are getting burned by IP fraud. ``I bought what I thought was a good class C subnet,'' said one A.I. Lab Professor, who requested anonymity. ``Turns out, it was already used by the Building 4 Athena Cluster.''

``I wouldn't call it prostitution,'' said one insider, ``but I know that [one of MIT's sororities] has been collecting IP address space from the five or six frats that it parties with. I don't think any of those girls are going to have trouble with the [Committee on Academic Performance] for the next few years. A floor in McCormick's got a quite a stash, too.''

But it's not without its risks, like any prostitution ring. Said a source who would only identify himself as Joe Beerbong, ``What did I get for my IP address? Crabs!''

``Dealing IP was a gateway crime for me,'' said Brian Bradley, who asked not to be identified. ``When I ran out of IP addresses, I wanted to keep dealing, so I switched to selling cocaine. The switch wasn't difficult, though. I still have the same customers: Media Lab professors and computer science grad students.''

Some have noted that Information Systems is benefiting twice from IP address price fixing. Not only do they collect the fees from renting out the expensive IP numbers, but by making the price extremely high, it cuts down on the amount of work that have to do running Name Servers, says Lesser. ``No bureaucray, whether it's the Registry of Motor Vehicles or I/S, should collect its own fees and fines. Cost-recovery is not as important as corruption-free government. Besides, this is absurd! There are entire countries with Class C networks.''

But Schiller is defiant. ``We are planning for the future. I already have IP addresses reserved for when the lights in my office are IP addressible. This is the future. My toiletries have assigned IP addresses, even my butt-razor.''