Tonight was my introduction to text based protocols lab. I have the students use netcat to interact directly with web servers and e-mail MTAs to experience the give and take of layer seven. The dance of GETs and 200 OKs or the chatty email flow using HELO, MAIL FROM, RCPT TO, DATA, and QUIT. When I first started teaching this lab I could use the college’s web and mail server. I also used to be able to let students traceroute and ping in week one during the how big and fast is the Internet lab.
As the years tick by I’ve noticed that these types of explorations of how the Internet works don’t seem to work as well as they once did. I’ve resorted to traceroute.org for my how big is the Internet lab and I need to maintain an old Sun Sparc machine running an old version of sendmail for the email lab.
It’s a mixed blessing in the end. I have to start talking about network security on day one, that’s a good thing. But, I also have to explain security related topics before the students grasp the basics and I’ve got to maintain old gear with old software just to let students get that experiential learning. Perhaps I’ll move some of these labs to more passive methods, i.e. watch an email move from client to server with wireshark.
Somehow it doesn’t feel the same as creating the raw email on the fly. I guess that’s the price we pay living on the dangerous Internet of 2008.