Security On The Web

Security on the Web, By Sina

How do you secure something that is changing faster than you can fix it? The Internet has had security problems since it’s earliest days as a pure research project. Today, after several years and orders of magnitude of growth, it still has security problems. The Internet is being used for a purpose for which it had never intended to be used for. It is somewhat ironic that the early Internet was design as a prototype for a high-availability command and control network that could resist outages resulting from an enemy attack, yet it cannot resist college undergraduates. The problem is that the attackers are on, and make up apart of, the network they are attacking. Designing a system that is capable of resisting attack from within, while still growing and evolving at a rapid pace, is probably impossible. Deep infrastructure changes are needed, and once you have achieved a certain amount of size, the sheer inertia of the installed base may make it impossible to apply fixes.
The challenge for the security industry is growing. With the electronic commerce spreading over the Internet, there are new issues being developed everyday such as non-repudiation that will need to be solved. Financial institutions will have both technical concerns, such as the security of a credit card number or banking information, and legal concerns for holding individuals responsible for their actions such as their purchases or sales over the Internet. Issuance and management of encryption keys for millions of users will pose a new type of challenge.
While some technologies have been developed, only an industry-wide effort and cooperation can minimize risks and ensure privacy for users, data confidentiality for the financial institutions, and non-repudiation for electronic commerce.
With the continuing growth in linking individuals and businesses over the Internet, some social issues are starting to surface. The society may take time in adapting to the new concept of transacting business over the Internet. Consumers may take time to trust the network and accept it as a substitute for transacting business in person. Another class of concerns relates to restricting access over the Internet. Preventing distribution of pornography and other objectionable material over the Internet has already been in the news. We can expect new social hurdles over time and hope the great benefits of the Internet will continue to override these hurdles through new technologies and legislations.
The World Wide Web is the single largest, most ubiquitous source of information in the world, and it sprang up spontaneously. People use interactive Web pages to obtain stock quotes, receive tax information from the Internal Revenue Service, check the local weather, consult a pregnancy planner to determine ovulation dates, conduct election polls, register for a conference, search for old friends, and the list goes on. It is only natural that the Web’s functionality, popularity, and ubiquity have made it the seemingly ideal platform for conducting electronic commerce. People can now go online to buy CDs, clothing, concert tickets, and stocks. Several companies, such as Digicash, Cybercash, CarParts.com, and First Virtual, have sprung up to provide mechanisms for conducting business on the Web. The savings in cost and the convenience of shopping via the Web are immeasurable. Where as most successful computer systems resulted from careful, methodical planning, followed by hard work, the Web took on a life of its own from the very beginning. The introduction of a common protocol and a friendly graphical user interface was all that was needed to ignite the Internet explosion. The Web’s virtues are extolled without end, but its rapid growth and universal adoption have not been without cost. In particular, security was added as an afterthought.
New capabilities were added to satisfy the growing demand for features without carefully considering the impact on security. As a general-purpose, scripts were introduced on both the client and the server sides of the Web. It did not take long for the Web to move from the scientific community to the commercial world. For then the dangers of accidental and malicious abuse grew. At this point, the security threats became much more serious. The incentive for malicious attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in the underlying technologies is at an all-time high. This is indeed frightening when we consider what attackers of computer