Security, Commerce and the Internet

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Security, Commerce and the Internet As the internet/world wide web (www), gradually became more available to ordinary computer users, it was obvious that it would become a target market for commercial retailers, financial services, etc. The benefits to seller and buyer are readily apparent – shopping and banking from home; travel arrangements; ticket reservations; and holidays can all be purchased quickly and accurately. Access to a modem and a credit card will secure a wide range of goods and services. This all seems a perfect system – immediacy, accuracy, convenience – the commercial transaction between seller and buyer simplified and streamlined. However, how can the security of the customer be protected? How can an internet user be sure that their details ~ personal information, address, credit card no.’s , etc. ~ will not be “snatched'; by persons unknown? How can the person be sure that their absence from home is not being inadvertently advertised on the net? How can the home banker be sure that their financial status remains confidential? In this essay, I will be examining some of the above issues, and attempting to show that ‘security weaknesses’ do represent a barrier to commerce on the net; but I will also evaluate some of the measures currently available to strengthen security. In general terms, as soon as you install an internet package on your PC at home and connect your modem, you have opened a window into your computer through which anyone (should they have the skill) can look. This may not present a major threat to the average user as far as confidentiality goes (how many readers have truly, truly, ‘national security threatening’ private documents that cannot be disclosed?!), however, embarrassing private information could be made public. Also possible is the ability to trace which sites have been visited by you and how frequently, thus enabling a competent user to build a quite accurate profile of you. Apart from access to private information, it is possible for the ‘hackers’ to cause your browser to crash, causing delays in work schedules, etc. Security really becomes an issue when you consider large multinational companies that rely on confidentiality (in terms of design specifications, etc.) to ensure profit. If these companies have a web site (as most do!), there is a good chance that malicious users will be able to penetrate the firewall defences and gain access to this information. That is not to say that they will be interested in this information, they may only redesign the web pages to cause maximum embarrassment to the company.

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