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Autor: Fabian Neumann ; Datum: 14.05.2000 ; Note: 14 ; Download (rtf, 12kb)

 
The Internet is revolutionizing - itself!

A worldwide computer network is revolutionizing the entire world. Companies like amazon.com, ebay.com, yahoo.com are as famous as for example VW or Coca-Cola. E-commerce is the new magic phrase at the stock market where these so called "dot-coms" cost more than some of the old-fashioned companies together. But does this new econ-omy really have a chance to survive when the first excitement is gone? Or will the Inter-net destroy itself, or will be destroyed even before it gets the chance to proof its quality to the masses?

Before considering problems I should try to find out what is actual possible to do with the help of the Internet. You can buy and order almost everything which is also available at your local retailer, too, including all kinds of computer stuff (hardware and software), books, magazines, CDs and so on. But although it is worldwide some offers are limited to metropolitan areas like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, etc.: it is for example impossible to order pizza or groceries in Fürstenwalde via the Internet.

The major problem for e-commerce is the payment: many, the option "credit card" is the most common, especially on American web sites. German pages often want to know your bank account number. It is impossible to consider whether your data is save or not for a normal user. The shops want to promise 100% safety for their clients but even they cannot guarantee that. After some trouble in the past about rather weak security sys-tems, an association called Trusted Shops developed for the German Internet market. They test web sites and evaluate the protection measures. The shops that pass the test positively get the Trusted Shops-Logo for their page and can use it for advertisement. Trusted Shops protects also against "black sheep", shops, which do not deliver or do other illegal things.

Statistics show that communication and the exchange of e-mails is the most impor-tant of the "average surfer". More or less important information don't go any longer the slow and expensive way via "snail mail", how the classical post system is called. But both ways of transfer have one thing in common: they are unsafe! In the Internet hackers replace the former curious postman. Even ordinary computer users can gain - if interested - very easily access to strange mail accounts. For companies it could mean the end, if internal secrets can be discovered by competitors. This fact let security enterprises profit, which develop soft- and hardware that should protect messages against unwanted eyes. Currently, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) by Network Associates is the worlds most famous and probably most widespread security software for private users. In 1997 William Crowell from the National Security Agency described the situation:

"If all the personal computers in the world - 260 million - were put to work on a single PGP-encrypted message, it would still take an estimated 12 million times the age of the universe, on average, to break a single message."

That was more than three years ago, when the computer performance was at a fifth of today's standard. And hacker societies, like the German Chaos Computer Club, aren't tired of trying to crack new and higher standards of cryptography again and again.

In the last years e-mail became one of the most frequented source for viruses. Eve-rybody heard about Melissa last year, and the ILOVEYOU-Virus two weeks ago. The current example shows how not only a virus can hurt one personal computer but how it can start a chain reaction flooding server systems from Australia over Asia, Europe to America. One man can produce billion-dollar damage within one day. And what had all harmed computers in common? They worked with the same software. The next big prob-lem appears: although the Internet infrastructure is designed platform independent, most end-user devices are not. Programs should be easy usable, be cheap and generate com-patible data. So it comes that almost the entire connected computer world uses the same. And, of course, no program is perfect, and sometimes it is too easy to find so-called "bugs" and "safety gaps", which bad-minded programmers can misuse for gaining access to functions of the operating system. They are not only able to hurt the computer obvi-ously, but their programs can work in the background and inform them from time to time about passwords or PINs, which they can use in addition with credit cards, for example.

Especially teenagers prefer chatting, a unique form of communication. You can get into contact with all kinds of people from all over the world. Exchange information or only discuss topics and express opinions in theme chat rooms. The Usenet with its News-groups has the same purpose, although you can get a lot more useful information. But also this is a place for crime, for example the organization of children porn rings.

I wrote a lot about the "new economy" and its children's illness. Furthermore there are the worldwide-orientated firms, which profit from the network. Research institutes, for example, have laboratories all over the world - using the Internet (or the special re-search orientated Internet II) they can work 24 hours a day, and are able to find solutions faster. Another way to take profit is to link computers to multiply their power. The Seti Project searches for alien life. On their Internet site, you can download a screensaver, which - when you are not working - analyses data from outer space, and sends an e-mail if it found something interesting. The performance of all these PCs together is much higher than of any other billion-dollar server. What seems like fun in this case can be very meaningful for mankind when it is uses for medical exploration, for instance.

I think the pros and cons concerning the development of the Internet are in bal-ances. As mentioned in the hacker article there is always the fight or the race between the "good guys" (the Internet economy, service providers) and the "bad guys" (hackers, virus authors). Sometimes the one party is ahead, sometimes the other one. In some areas this relation changes day by day or hour by hour. You will never be able to stop the develop-ment and I am not expecting that one-day all problems concerning the safety of the net will be solved. In the contrary, because that would mean that the development has stopped. And as everybody knows does competition further the development. And "white hats" are keeping the security industry improving their defense.


 
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