Security experts recently made an unprecedented appeal to computer system administrators to update software to protect the Internet. The warning highlights the vulnerabilities of the digital era. Security flaws continue to be the Achilles Heel of the information revolution. There is little sign that message is sinking in.
The warning concerned software on Internet Domain Servers, the computers that act as directories when someone accesses the Internet. When an address is entered, such as japantimes.co.jp, the domain server translates the name into a numerical address that the computer can read. The most commonly used software is BIND, Berkeley Internet Name Domain, and according to the experts it has a flaw that allows hackers to change the listings. That could create chaos as traffic is redirected, lost or stolen.
The BIND alert is the most recent problem that security experts have found. Last year, CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team, the U.S. nonprofit organization charged with improving security in cyberspace, noted more than 21,000 “incidents,” almost half the total number of incidents recorded between 1988 and 2000. There were 774 vulnerabilities reported last year, almost twice as many as found in 1998.
The nature of information technology means that those vulnerabilities are replicated worldwide. Since a network is only as strong as its weakest link, the failure of only one flaw to go “unpatched” means that the entire system is vulnerable.
Most computer users fail to trace the chain of consequences. Every point of contact is a potential security threat. Dangers begin the moment an individual logs on. Vulnerabilities exist on every level: the individual user, the local area network, the Internet, the infrastructure — the list goes on and on.
Most people adopt one of two approaches. Either they conclude security is someone else’s problem — the people who get paid to think about such matters — or they refuse to go online. Neither option is workable. There is no going back on the IT revolution. And security is a continuing process that is everyone’s concern. Mutual vulnerability is as binding a force as the Internet itself.
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