Information Security Defense In Depth Lessons (from a Bronze-Age Fort)
What can the Information Age learn about defense-in-depth from a 3,000-year-old Irish fort? Plenty.
By Scott Berinato , with an invaluable assist from Claire Cotter
April 01, 2005 — CSO —
In the summer of 2004, Internet guru Vint Cerf proclaimed that the Internet is moving from its Stone Age to its Iron Age. Soon after, Internet guru Paul Mockapetris slightly altered that sentiment and said that, at best, the Internet has reached a figurative Bronze Age, which filled the two millennia between the Stone and Iron Ages.
Still, the two gurus were making the same point: In no time, today's Net will be an antediluvian relic, replaced by an unimaginably advanced network that controls all communication everywhere. Cerf talked about connecting the Internet to other planets. Mockapetris told the BBC, "Ten years from now, we will look back at the Net and think, How could we have been so primitive?"
Primitive? Bronze Age? Well, not exactly. After digging a little—and talking to an archaeologist who dug a lot—we discovered that our ancestors from the literal Bronze Age were, in fact, quite sophisticated, at least when it comes to security. In many ways, their security philosophies and designs were smarter and more efficient than ours today.
To prove it, we offer Dun Aengus, an awe-inspiring hill-fort on Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. The fortified structure there dates to the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago, and it was used at least up through the late medieval period, past the year 1000. We will examine features from the fort that were built at many stages of its working life—some as early as 1100 B.C. and others as late as the year 800. These features helped keep Dun Aengus both secure and productive for thousands of years. We also invite you to enjoy the site's magnificence—which is itself a security feature. (We'll explain.)
Irish archaeologist Claire Cotter led the most important digs at Dun Aengus and has graciously offered her knowledge from those efforts, as well as her knowledge of defensive structures in ancient fortifications in general. All photos in this article are courtesy of Claire Cotter.
If the Internet is primitive, then its security is prehistoric. Cerf's and Mockapetris's future visions of the Internet will rely on that changing. Read on to see what Bronze Age wisdom Dun Aengus can impart that will help security evolve in the Digital Age.
Reinforce Brute Defense at Most Strategic and Weakest Points The Inner Enclosure is the fort's most strategic locale. It housed elites and protected the most valuable goods, including amber, trading beads, and bronze. Cotter found bronze hoards cliffside in the inner enclosure. The upper classes buried these valuables—collections of swords, armor, rings and so forth—as offerings to the gods, but also to control the circulation of bronze, the most important currency, much the way the government controls money today.