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Overcoming the Internet

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The Internet is a handy means of communication, but it's really no more private than talking over the back fence to your neighbor. In this article, Sean Walton describes some of the more harrowing Internet problems and the "solutions" undertaken by some companies.
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What do you do with the modern problems of the Internet? Security and service attacks are common news items. Network load and bandwidth are real issues. Spamsters, snoopers, and crackers appear to be forcing companies to redirect development to building protective walls around themselves. In fact, the network landscape appears more and more like medieval castles or the lawless Wild West.

Companies are demanding security, and the dollars they are spending on firewalls, portals, single sign-on, and so on are mounting from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. The problem is that the software only patches the inherent problems. Inherent problems? Yes, the problems that Netizens are facing are primarily due to the nature of the Internet.

Looking Back

Back when I first began working on and administering a few servers around 1985 at Brigham Young University, the Internet constituted several different networks linked in various ways through gateways. These gateways provided hopping points to get into BitNet, ARPAnet, etc. Our servers were part of the Internet itself. At that time, the Internet primarily harbored research and educational facilities as well as the U.S. Department of Defense. For better or worse, all that changed with the commercialization of the Internet.

Now, the various networks have either merged with or given way to the Internet, thus simplifying transactions considerably. For example, sending an email message from the Internet to a destination on BitNet required using special routing sequences along with BitNet's own addressing scheme. Now, nearly all foreign networks recognize or are able to work with the name@company.network style of addressing. The migration from these disparate networks and protocols to a unified program has revolutionized the world.

The information revolution is due primarily due to the Internet, and the purpose of the Internet is to provide a dynamic and adaptive way for messages to get through. The routers, hosts, and packets are mostly independent of each other, making it very flexible and powerful: If one segment or route drops, the routers adapt and find new paths for the message traffic. The commercialization of the Internet increased this adaptability. The evolution has been a tremendous boon to the flow of information; even people under restrictive governments are gaining from the new, free flow of information.

But the strengths and pluses of new technologies bring downsides. The Internet moves messages from one place to another. No one checks the validity of the message or checks the originator. In fact, the message packets could easily be recorded and then replayed at any time or from any location. The nature of the Internet is its own stumbling block.

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