Warning from the dark side of the web

March 3, 2000

A leader of the early internet last week sounded a warning about the potential for global "virtual conflict" and the tools needed to combat it.

Steve Lukasik, visiting scholar at Stanford University and former head of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the United States, said the "dark side of today's internet" was signified by the destructive forces at work recently in the denial of service attacks on web firms.

The global network he helped build had deliberately avoided the question of security to get the job done, but the time had come

to address the question, he said.

"The networks are now so nicely decentralised that no one is in charge, protecting them. Who controls this? There are policy and technical weaknesses here," Dr Lukasik told an audience of internet developers at a Next Generation Internet conference organised by IIR Telecoms and Technology in London.

Attacks on "information- dependent infrastructure" for subversive or destructive ends would lead to loss of confidence by business and individuals. Technologists should take a strong lead in the development of both defensive tools and in defensive policy governing the net, Dr Lukasik said.

"The problem of the dark side is much more severe than reported. One per cent of what's going on gets reported. There are a number of bad things below the surface that people choose not to see."

Dr Lukasik said cyberspace was a domain for potential global conflict, but there were a number of fixes at the technical and the human level. "Attacks always come through the weakest point, so we should determine a minimum level of defence at the individual organisation level. There are a number of 'people things' - training incentives, vetting - with procedural changes - auditing, software testing - that would help."

But collective actions transcending individual national boundaries would need to go way beyond such terminal defences to protect the "information commons". These would involve voluntary and regulatory intervention.

"Defence of the net is labour-intensive and we will run out of cops and courts before we catch all the hackers. But we must raise the cost to the hacker," Dr Lukasik said.

Protecting the internet commons would offer significant challenges, not least the tensions between national interests and the necessity for international action complicated by the rise of multinational corporations with their own sovereignty agendas.

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