Towards a secure Internet

Abhijit Roy

Saurav Chakrabarti

IN the Internet, there is an acute space shortage, major security lapses abound and severe traffic snarls clog infobahns. The Internet today represents a virtual urban nightmare. It is rapidly becoming a victim of its own success and in many ways mirrors the problems that affect huge metropolises around the world.

Primarily, two issues need to be resolved: Lack of security and the need for more space (or, the need for increased combinations of numbers that can be allotted to identify newer computers on the Net).

With these demands increasing in intensity over the past few years, the technology that has changed the world, is in for a change itself. Here, we are talking about a change in the protocol that the Internet uses to allow computers to talk to each other.

Security

Like any urban jungle, cyberspace too is fraught with danger. The question: ``Is my network/mailbox safe?'', causes corporate paranoia and individual insomnia.

The value of transactions over the Internet, known as e-commerce, is predicted to touch Rs. 300 crores in the country this year according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), the nodal agency for the software industry in India.

In the US, this is to reach a mind-numbing figure of $1.3 trillions by 2003 _ an annual growth rate of 99 per cent.

Indian software companies are expected to log on to this immense opportunity in providing e-commerce solutions and will perhaps rake in more than Rs. 3,000 crores from this alone by the same period, predicts Nasscom.

With the result: There is far too much at stake now on the Internet to brush aside fears over Internet security as making a mountain out of a molehill. The US President, Mr. Bill Clinton, wants a multi-billion dollar project to install FIDNET (Federal Intrusion Detection Network) to protect all Government networks by 2003.

The apprehensions take on frightening proportions when reports of breaches in heavily secure networks hit the headlines with a nagging regularity. Every day we are being bombarded with wake-up calls. Consider these:

I February, 1998: A group of teenagers merrily hack their way into the Pentagon's computer network, hitherto thought to be the most secure network under the Sun. Imagine the catastrophe they could have caused had they playfully triggered a couple of missiles aimed at Beijing.

I May, 1998: Closer home, another group of teenagers, repeated the feat with the computer network of Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, India's premier nuclear research agency. This time, the break-in was even more astonishing. The group of five, who called themselves Millworm, was located in different countries. They met each other in cyberspace and decided to play havoc with sites that claimed to be secured. They even posted top-secret documents of BARC on their site.

I June 1998: BPL Cellular mobile phone users were in for a surprise when they suddenly found that their Instacards were being withdrawn by the company which had announced it after a lot of hype and hoopla. The service had been broken into by a hacker who had posted a code number on the Internet. All one needed to renew the services of the Instacard was to get the number and punch it on his machine. No paying money, no filling up forms. The company could do nothing and was forced to withdraw the services.

I August 1999: A loophole in Hotmail, used by 40 million people all over the world, exposed all its mail accounts to millions of Netizens. During the attack, all one needed to read a mail at the site was the user name. No password was required! This was the second largest such breach.

I September 1999: United Loan Gunman, a group of hackers, vandalised the Internet sites of Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange in a bold electronic affront to the world's financial markets. They even left a taunting message to say it was intended to ``make stocks rise dramatically, thus making all investors happy.''

This security problem is steadily assuming alarming proportions. To make matters worse, scientists feel there is little one can do with the current protocol of the Internet. It needs to be changed lock, stock and barrel. Not exactly the easiest of tasks given the number of users.

The solution

Scientists claim to have found a way to solve this problem. The saviour _ IPv6 (Internet Protocol, Version 6), a new protocol for the Internet _ will end security woes.

No longer will you have to think twice before using your dollar card while shopping online. Says Mr. Rahul Sharma, Executive Director, Web Development Company, an Internet technology company in the country: ``IPv6 takes care of a number of shortcomings of the previous version, including security issues. IPv6 is expected to gradually replace IPv4 with the two co-existing for a number of years during a transition period.''

(To be concluded.)

The authors are e-business consultants based in Calcutta.
Source : The Business Line. April 27, 2000