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Understanding the Internet—A Brief History

What is the Internet? The Internet is a global network of computer networks. Each network might contain thousands of computers that are connected or networked together. The term internet is short for internetwork or interconnected network; when capitalized, the term refers to the global internetwork or Internet, which enables millions of computers to communicate with each other on a daily basis.

The Internet was originally intended to be ubiquitous, and it was assumed that its users knew and trusted each other, which facilitated communication. However, as the popularity of the Internet grew, so did the number of users, which led to the deterioration of the trust model. This phenomenon completely changed the usage of the Internet, because users of the system were now at the mercy of a small number of individuals (who became known as hackers) who had the advanced skills needed to fully understand and manipulate the system. Some members of this newly formed community exploited the network's wide-open design for personal gain or bragging rights.

The popularity of the Internet continued to grow within the academic and government communities, but it did not extend to enterprises due to the technical skills required to access the system and commercial use restrictions. However, this all changed in the early 1990s with the development of Internet browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape Navigator. These advancements revolutionized the Internet, and now in addition to text, web pages contain graphics, pictures, sound, animation, and even video. The popularity of the Internet grew sharply after the advent of these browsers, as shown in Figure 1-1.


Figure 1-1 Internet growth.

The U.S. government also relaxed and later removed commercial use restrictions, and mainstream businesses started to use the Internet as another medium to communicate with their customers, which has now eclipsed the original objectives of sharing information among academic and government organizations.

Although the openness of the Internet enabled businesses to quickly adopt its technology ecosystem, it also proved to be a great weakness from an information security perspective. The system's original purpose as a means of collaboration between groups of trusted colleagues is no longer practical because the usage has expanded into millions of frequently anonymous users.

Numerous security incidents related to viruses, worms, and other malicious software have occurred since the Morris Worm, which was the first and shut down 10% of the systems on the Internet in 1988. These incidents have become increasingly complex and costly. Table 1-1 provides a brief overview of other major incidents over the past few years.

Table 1-1. Major Information Security Incidents




Morris Worm


  • Stopped 10% of computers connected to Internet

Melissa Virus

May 1999

  • 100,000 computers in one week
  • $1.5 billion impact

Explorer Virus

June 1999

  • $1.1 billion impact

Love Bug Virus (I Love You Virus)

May 2000

  • $8.75 billion impact

Sircam Virus

July 2001

  • 2.3 million computers infected
  • $1.25 billion impact

Code Red Worm

July 2001

  • 359,000 computers infected in less than 14 hours
  • $2.75 billion impact

Nimda Worm

Sept. 2001

  • 160,000 computers infected at peak
  • $1.5 billion impact



  • $750 million impact



  • $500 million impact



  • $400 million impact

Sapphire/Slammer Worm

Jan. 2003

  • Infected 90% of vulnerable hosts in just 10 minutes
  • 75,000 hosts infected at peak

  • $1.5 billion impact



  • $750 million impact



  • $500 million impact



  • $2.5 billion impact

MyDoom Worm

Jan. 2004

  • Fastest spreading mass-mailer worm to date
  • 100,000 instances of the worm intercepted per hour
  • More than $4.0 billion impact

Witty Worm

March 2004

  • First widely propagated worm to carry a destructive payload

*Sources: “Virus Costs on the Rise Again—2004 Update,” Computer Economics, March 2004. “MyDoom Virus Update; Fastest Spreading Virus Ever,” Computer Economics, February 2004. “The Spread of the Witty Worm— CAIDA ANALYSIS,” Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), www.caida.org.

The Internet has grown from just a few thousand users in 1983 to more than 800 million users worldwide in 2004. It provides a vital online channel to conduct business with existing and potential customers. However, despite this huge upside, the Internet poses significant security risks that businesses ignore or underestimate at their own peril. The following section describes the major information security challenges to businesses today.

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