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The Problems with the Internet

The sheer power of the Internet is its capacity to adapt. And since it has a lot of public pathways, the cost of connection is very cheap. But this power and decentralized ownership have led to Wild West days. The challenges you face as a network expert include security attacks, flooding, network load, and rising corporate costs. All challenges except for the corporate costs are technical in nature. This means that you can typically address them with a technical solution...well, most of the time.

The first challenge is a very serious threat to everyone on the Net: security attacks. The potential of taking an entire corporation down is very real—this has never been a possibility until recently. One insurance company estimated that if its network services were to fall to an attack, it would cost the company about $10 billion in lost reputation and sales.

One of the difficulties in tracking any network perpetrator is due to the Internet Protocol's message passing. The Internet can handle routing of traffic quickly and dynamically. To do this, you have to ignore where the message came from and focus merely on the destination. This means that the message may be coming from a location non grata such as a cracker or a spamster. Sure, some organizations (such as the United States' FBI and CIA) actually track and record the messages for analysis, but they're less than inclined to make the logs widely available.

Another difficulty is found in the host operating systems and services. Network-enabled operating systems are very complex; those with several program services (email, HTTP servers, and so on) leave a lot of openings for crackers to attack. Unless an operating system or service has security as its foundational design, it can't ever be secure.

An attacker also may not really be interested in getting into a site; instead he or she may simply want to take the site down with tools such as flooding, email spam, and viruses. All of these work because of the anonymous user. Anonymity is an expected feature of the Internet; however, in the hands of a prankster or malcontent, it can do almost the same amount of damage to a company as a network cracker. In almost all cases, these three challenges reduces the availability of services, network bandwidth, and employee productivity:

  • Flooding a site essentially forces the site to pay the majority of its attention to the attacker while starving all the legitimate connection requests. It doesn't matter that you have the fastest servers on the planet. It's like having all the horsepower to beat everyone on the track but finding that you're burning more rubber than actually accelerating.

  • Spam (unsolicited email) is a real hidden cost. Most people who email spam know that they don't have to pay anything—the reader does (in connection time and wasted labor). The U.S. has a strange law that actually protects spamming. As long as the spam includes a way to get off the list, the message is legal. But everyone knows that if you follow the "remove" link, you may be removed from one list but placed on another. Also, most email destinations (for removal) often don't really exist or are full and won't accept more messages.

    The Net is very burdened with the weight of unsolicited email. The average home user gets anywhere from 1–5 spam messages for every legitimate message. The time people spend trying to filter out the unwanted messages is relatively high.

  • Users also spend a lot of time avoiding, detecting, and removing viruses. The threat of computer viruses has grown its own industry: virus protection, detection, and removal. Companies such as McAfee and Norton do a great job of protecting computers. However, their industry is essentially manufactured; without viruses, they wouldn't be needed. Most large companies include some virus detection in the distribution of all their computers. Again, the overhead cost of such maintenance is high and growing.

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