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  • The Early Days of the Arpanet
  • Peter T. Kirstein (bio)

Arpanet's first access control

In September 2003, University College London (UCL) had had their Arpanet terminal interface processor (TIP) for only six weeks. There was a major networks meeting in Brighton, which was the first public demonstration of international usage.

Immediately after the meeting, I had an Arpanet project meeting at UCL and then invited all the attendees to my house for dinner. There were at least a dozen attendees, including most of the developers of the TIP software from BBN. Of course, all of them were suffering withdrawal symptoms because they had not been onto the net for a whole week, so they lined up to get on my home system. Although they could dial in easily, they could not get any further because the TIP requested a password. The BBN developers were particularly astounded; their software did not at the time have any access control, so they could not understand this request.

At UCL, we were very concerned about security. I had a DEC PDP-9 host and had found a security hole in their software. For a fraction of a second, after users connected in but before they had time to do anything else, it was possible to seize the session and force it to go through our host. We had used this to request that the user put in a password, before we released the connection and let the normal software continue. I believe that this was the first network-level access control on the Arpanet!

The first use of the Arpanet by a head of state

Toward the end of 1975, DARPA was worried that international usage of the Arpanet would raise questions in the US Congress or Senate and asked me to keep a low profile. I agreed, of course, in principle. In January 1976, the Queen was opening a new building in the British Royal Signals and Radar Establishment at Malvern in England. The British were starting a collaboration between US and British defense contractors on the new ADA language. As part of that, a link between RSRE and UCL, and hence into the Arpanet was being established, and it was arranged that the Queen would inaugurate the link.

During the preparation for this event, I was told that the provision of the link between RSRE and UCL was given the second highest priority of any link by the then carrier, the British Post Office. The only activity with higher priority was repairing telephone exchanges in Northern Ireland that were blown up by the IRA! We intended that the link would be inaugurated by the Queen logging in to an account at ISI in Los Angeles and sending a welcome e-mail. The only accounts I had at ISI were in my own name, so I requested an account for her called HM EII because to use another account would be lèse majesté (i.e. the crime of violating majesty). (This is the only time I have used that phrase completely correctly!)

When the event happened, all considerations of a low profile were forgotten. All the relevant DARPA officials, from the director downward, wanted to participate in the event—even though it was at 6:00 a.m. EST. [End Page 67]

Peter T. Kirstein

Readers may contact Peter T. Kirstein at



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