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Internet Security Essay, Research Paper

Internet Security

Many people today are familiar with the Internet and its use. A large

number of its users however, are not aware of the security problems they face

when using the Internet. Most users feel they are anonymous when on-line, yet

in actuality they are not. There are some very easy ways to protect the user

from future problems.

The Internet has brought many advantages to its users but has also

created some major problems. Most people believe that they are anonymous when

they are using the Internet. Because of this thinking, they are not careful

with what they do and where they go when on the “net.” Security is a major

issue with the Internet because the general public now has access to it. When

only the government and higher education had access, there was no worry about

credit card numbers and other types of important data being taken. There are

many advantages the Internet brings to its users, but there are also many

problems with the Internet security, especially when dealing with personal

security, business security, and the government involvement to protect the users.

The Internet is a new, barely regulated frontier, and there are many

reasons to be concerned with security. The same features that make the Internet

so appealing such as interactivity, versatile communication, and customizability

also make it an ideal way for someone to keep a careful watch on the user

without them being aware of it (Lemmons 1). It may not seem like it but it is

completely possible to build a personal profile on someone just by tracking them

in cyperspace. Every action a person does while logged onto the Internet is

recorded somewhere (Boyan, Codel, and Parekh 3).

An individual’s personal security is the major issue surrounding the

Internet. If a person cannot be secure and have privacy on the Internet, the

whole system will fail. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology

(CDT), any website can find out whose server and the location of the server a

person used to get on the Internet, whether his computer is Windows or DOS based,

and also the Internet browser that was used. This is the only information that

can be taken legally. However, it can safely be assumed that in some cases much

more data is actually taken (1). These are just a few of the many ways for

people to find out the identity of an individual and what they are doing when

on the Internet.

One of the most common ways for webmasters to find out information about

the user is to use passive recording of transactional information. What this

does is record the movements the user had on a website. It can tell where the

user came from, how long he stayed, what files he looked at, and where he went

when he left. This information is totally legal to obtain, and often the

webmaster will use it to see what parts of his site attracts the most attention.

By doing this, he can improve his site for the people that return often (Boyan,

Codel, and Parekh 2).

There is a much more devious way that someone can gain access to

information on a user’s hard-drive. In the past, the user did not need to be

concerned about the browser he used; that changed when Netscape Navigator 2.0

was introduced. Netscape 2.0 takes advantage of a programming language called

Java. Java uses the browser to activate programs to better enhance the website

the user was viewing. It is possible for someone to write a program using Java

that transfers data from the user’s computer back to the website without the

user ever being aware of anything being taken. Netscape has issued new releases

that fix some but not all of the two dozen holes in the program (Methvin 3).

Many people do not realize that they often give information to websites

by doing something called direct disclosure. Direct disclosure is just that,

the user gives the website information such as their e-mail address, real

address, phone number, and any other information that is requested. Often, by

giving up information, a user will receive special benefits for “registering”

such as a better version of some software or being allowed into “member only

areas” (Boyan, Codel, and Parekh 2).

E-mail is like a postcard. E-mail is not like mailing a letter in an

envelope. Every carrier that touches that e-mail can read it if they choose.

Not only can the carriers see the message on the e-mail, but it can also be

electronically intercepted and read by hackers. This can all be done without the

sender or the receiver ever knowing anything had happened (Pepper 1). E-mail is

the most intriguing thing to hackers because it can be full of important data

from secret corporate information to credit card numbers (Rothfeder, “Special

Reports” 2).

The only way to secure e-mail is by encryption. This makes an envelope

that the hacker cannot penetrate. The downside to using encryption on a huge

network like the Internet is that both users must have compatible software

(Rothfeder, “Special Reports” 2). A way to protect a persons e-mail is to use

an autoremailer. This gives the sender a “false” identity which only the

autoremailer knows, and makes it very difficult to trace the origin of the e-

mail (Boyan, Codel, and Parekh 4).

Another but more controversial way of gathering data is by the use of

client-side persistent information or “cookie” (Boyan, Codel, and Parekh 2).

Cookies are merely some encoded data that the website sends to the browser when

the user leaves the site. This data will be retrieved when the user returns at

a later time. Although cookies are stored on the user’s hard-drive, they are

actually pretty harmless and can save the user time when visiting a web site

(Heim 2).

Personal security is an important issue that needs to be dealt with but

business security is also a major concern. “An Ernst and Young survey of 1271

companies found that more than half had experienced computer-related break-ins

during the past two years; 17 respondents had losses over $1 million” (”November

1995 Feature”). In a survey conducted by Computer Security and the FBI, 53

percent of 428 respondents said they were victims of computer viruses; 42

percent also said that unauthorized use of their systems had occurred within the

last 12 months (Rothfeder, “November 1996 Feature” 1).

While electronic attacks are increasing more rapidly than any other kind, a

large number of data break-ins are from the inside. Ray Jarvis, President of

Jarvis International Intelligence, says “In information crimes, it’s not usually

the janitor who’s the culprit. It’s more likely to be an angry manager who’s

already looking ahead to another job”(Rothfeder, “November 1996 Feature” 3).

While electronic espionage is increasing, so is the ability to protect

computer systems. “The American Society for Industrial Security estimates that

high-tech crimes, including unreported incidents, may be costing U.S.

corporations as much as $63 billion a year” (Rothfeder, “November 1996 Featuer”


There are many ways for businesses to protect themselves. They can use a

variety of techniques such as firewalls and encryption.

Firewalls are one of the most commonly used security devices. They are

usually placed at the entrance to a network. The firewalls keep unauthorized

users out while admitting authorized users only to the areas of the network to

which they should have access. There are two major problems with firewalls, the

first, is that they need to be installed at every point the system comes in

contact with other networks such as the Internet (Rothfeder, “November 1996

Feature” 5). The second problem is that firewalls use passwords to keep

intruders out. Because of this, the firewall is only as good as the

identification scheme used to log onto a network (Rothfeder, “November 1996

Feature” 2).

Passwords, a major key to firewalls, are also the most basic of security

measures. The user should avoid easily guessable passwords such as a child’s

name, birthdate, or initials. Instead, he should use cryptic phrases and

combine the use of small and capitalized letters such as “THE crow flys AT

midnight”. Another easy way to avoid problems is to change the password or

phrase at least once a month (Rothfeder, “November 1996 Feature” 5).

Just in case an intruder does get through the first layer of security, a

good backup is to have all the data on the system encrypted. Many browsers come

with their own encryption schemes, but companies can buy their own stand-alone

packages as well. Most encryption packages are based on a public-private key

with their own private encryption key to unlock the code for a message and

decipher it. Encryption is the single best way to protect data from being read,

if stolen, and is rather cost effective (Rothfeder, “November 1996 Feature”5).

Businesses need protection but they cannot do it alone. The Federal

government will have to do its part if the Internet is going to give us all the

returns possible. Businesses will not use the Internet if they do not have

support from the government.

In the United States there is no set of laws that protect a person’s

privacy when on the Internet. The closest rules that come to setting a standard

of privacy is an assortment of laws beginning with the Constitution and

continuing down to local laws. These laws unfortunately, are not geared for

the Internet. These laws are there only to protect a person’s informational

privacy (Boyan, Codel, and Parekh 3).

Now, because of the booming interest and activity on the Internet in both

the personal and the business level, the government has started investigating

the Internet and working on ways to protect the users.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency

(CIA), and the National Security Agency have all devoted small units to fighting

computer security crimes. After Senate hearings, the Justice Department

proposed that a full-time task force be set up to study the vulnerability of

the nations informational infrastructure. This would create a rapid-response

team for investigating computer crimes. They also proposed to require all

companies to report high-tech break-ins to the FBI (Rothfeder, “November 1996

Feature” 4).

Security for the Internet is improving, it is just that the usage of the

Internet is growing much faster. Security is a key issue for every user of the

Internet and should be addressed before a person ever logs on to the “net”. At

best, all users should have passwords to protect themselves, any businesses need

to put up firewalls at all points of entry. These are low cost security

measures which should not be over looked in a possible multi-billion dollar


Works Cited

Boyan, Justin and Eddie Codel and Sameer Parekh. Center for Democracy and

Technology Web Page. Http://www.13x.com/cgi-bin/cdt/snoop.pl accessed

January 26, 1997: 1-4.

Heim, Judy. “Here’s How.” PC World Online January 1997: 1-3.

Methvin, David W. “Safety on the Net.” Windows Magazine Online (1996): 1-9.

Lemmons, Phil. “Up Front.” PC World Online February 1997: 1-2.

November, 1995 Feature PC World Online November 1995 1-3.

Pepper, Jon. “Better Safe Than Sorry.” PC World Online October 1996: 1-2

Rothfeder, Jeffrey. “February 1997 Special Report.” PC World Online February

1997: 1-6

Rothfeder, Jeffrey. “November 1996 Features.” PC World Online November 1996: 1-


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