2006/10/08

Web Apps, Security and the Future of the 'Net

Reading recent articles about 'Chinese attacks' on US government websites, proliferation of web apps, sneakier malware and pervasive 'net use by college students and other young people raises questions about the future of the 'net.

The article about attacks originating in China against US government websites brings up the question of how secure anyone can be online these days. According to the article, entire computers are being replaced by the government because it's feared the attackers may have stored "...malicious code in the BIOS flash memory." The government department officials said even wiping the hard drives might not make the computers safe to use.

A post on SolutionWatch.com gave a pretty good overview of web applications, especially with respect for use in educational settings. One potential problem, though, is what do you do if there are major security problems or an extended web outage and a significant amount of your data and the applications you use to do computer work are on the web. Maybe the answer is that if the web becomes so insecure or unreliable that a person can't trust it to store their data or to provide apps to process that data, then there are much bigger problems than how to retrieve or store our files.

The article about the Chinese attacks, as well as articles linked from the PCWorld 'spyware & security' webpage and other malware articles in the news lately reinforced the point that malware writers have a continual improvement goal. They work hard to be good at being bad guys. The articles also reinforced the opinions of Dan Ratner and Chunka Mui, two smart guys from the Chicago area, who stated at an MIT Enterprise Forum in Chicago earlier this year that security on the 'net will get much worse before it gets better.

Combine implications of the above articles and posts with an article about college student's expectations that the 'net and technology will be available everywhere and always in good working order. Shake well and out comes a mixture guaranteed to result in some interesting times. There is also a certain level of expectation on the part of young people that their online information requires no more care and feeding than does their cell phone or their iPod or their tv. As loosely controlled and protected as the 'net is, one has to wonder how it has lasted this long without falling apart or being torn apart. Is the long term future of the 'net one of sunshine and fun, or one where only gunslingers with no data to lose dare venture. Or, like most things in life, is it somewhere in-between, with a healthy dose of 'caveat emptor?'

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