Web standards

Updates

18 Apr 2017

Chrome, Firefox and Opera, some among the most popular Internet browsers, appear to be vulnerable to a specific sort of phishing attack, cybersecurity-related websites reported. The vulnerability allows perpetrators to conduct a so-called homograph type of phishing attack, in which a domain name that looks exactly like a legitimate one (such as apple.com, google.com or a domain of a bank for instance) is displayed in users' browsers, yet it is actually a different domain and leads to a fraudulent website. This fraud is possible in browsers which mishandle specific way of encoding (known as "punycode") used to display domains which contain non-Latin script letters (such as Cyrillic, Arabic or Chinese) in order to enable internationalized domain names (IDN) to be used. IDN domains used to trick the users in such way are also legitimate domain names (but used for fraudulent purposes), and can therefore obtain a legitimate SSL certificate, which adds a "https://" security layer which can additionally confuse users to believe the address displayed is the requested one. Technology websites are raising awareness about this issue and suggesting the ways to mitigate the problem in Firefox, while Chrome has released the updated version of its browser. Security professionals, however, fear that the vulnerability may be heavily exploited for cyber-attacks before users around the world upgrade their software.

10 Jan 2017

New International Telecommunication Union’s standard provides basis for high-quality Voice over LTE (Long-Term Evolution). A new ITU standard highlights the key factors influencing end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS) for voice communications over 4G mobile networks. The standard will form the basis of future ITU standards on specific aspects of QoS for Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Video-telephony over LTE (ViLTE).

The “End-to-end QoS for voice over 4G mobile networks” was developed by ITU’s standardization expert group for ‘performance, QoS and QoE’, ITU-T Study Group 12. ITU-T Study Group 12 develops international standards on performance, quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE). The group meets from 10th to 19th January 2017 in Geneva.

 

14 Oct 2016

Each year on 14 October, the members of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) celebrate World Standards Day, to pay a tribute to the collaborative efforts of the thousands of experts worldwide who dedicate their time and expertise to the development of international standards.The theme for World Standards Day in 2016 is 'Standards Build Trust'.Around the globe, various activities are chosen by national bodies to commemorate the date. The IEC, ISO and ITU run a video competition in the run-up to World Standards Day, challenging entrants to record a 15-second video demonstrating how difficult life would be in a world without international standards. You can find the videos here. Globally, World Standards day for the first time was celebrated on 1970.

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Web standards are a set of formal standards and technical specifications for the world wide web. They ensure that content is accessible across devices and configurations, and therefore provide the core rules for developing websites.

The main content and applications standards include: HyperText Markup Language (HTML), a plain text language which makes use of tags to define the structure of the document; eXtensible Markup Language (XML), another type of language used for sharing structured information; Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) a language used in conjunction with HTML to control the presentation of web pages; and eXtensible HTML (XHTML), an extended version of HTML which uses stricter rules.

 

Web standards in context

By the late 1980s, the battle of network standards was over. TCP/IP gradually became the main network protocol, marginalising other standards. While the Internet facilitated normal communication between a variety of networks via TCP/IP (see Technical Standards), the system still lacked common applications standards.

A solution was developed by Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Geneva, consisting of a new standard for sharing information over the Internet, called HTML. Content displayed on the Internet first had to be organised according to HTML standards. HTML, as the basis of the World Wide Web, paved the way for the Internet’s exponential growth.

Since its first version, HTML has been constantly upgraded with new features. The growing relevance of the Internet has put the question of the standardisation of HTML into focus. This was particularly relevant during the Browser Wars between Netscape and Microsoft, when each company tried to strengthen its market position by influencing HTML standards. While basic HTML only handled text and photos, newer Internet applications required more sophisticated technologies for managing databases, video, and animation. Such a variety of applications required considerable standardisation efforts in order to ensure that Internet content could be properly viewed by the majority of Internet browsers.

Application standardisation entered a new phase with the emergence of XML, which provided greater flexibility in the setting of standards for Internet content. New sets of XML standards were also been introduced, such as the standard for the distribution of wireless content called Wireless Markup Language (WML).

Setting web standards

The main web standard-setting institution is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), headed by Tim Berners-Lee. Standards are developed through an elaborate process which aims to promote consensus, fairness, public accountability, and quality. At the end of the process, standards are published in the form of Recommendations.

When it comes to an open approach to standards development, W3C – in addition to other bodies such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and the Internet Society – subscribes to the Open Stand initiative, an affirmation of principles that encourages the development of open and global market-driven standards.

W3C standards define an open platform for the development of applications, which enables developers to build rich interactive experiences. W3C states that ‘although the boundaries of the platform continue to evolve, industry leaders speak nearly in unison about how HTML5 will be the cornerstone for this platform.’

It is interesting to note that in spite of its high relevance to the Internet, so far, the W3C has not attracted much attention in the debate on Internet governance.

Other institutions involved in standards include the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA), an association of companies whose main role is to develop Standards and Technical Reports.

Possible gaps in dealing with web standards

As with technical standards, the possible gap in the development of web standards is related to the coverage of non-technical aspects (e.g. human rights, competition policy, and security). Web standards have an even stronger impact on these non-technical aspects since, more so than technical standards, they shape the ways in which the Internet is accessed and used.

Events

Resources

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

A Security Analysis of Emerging Web Standards. HTML5 and Friends, from Specification to Implementation (2012)
Wireless Application Protocol WAP 2.0 Technical White Paper (2002)
A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication (1974)

 

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