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Neal Weinberg
Contributing writer, Foundry

‘Net needs to take a bite out of cybercrime

Opinion
Aug 30, 20043 mins
CybercrimeMalwareNetworking

As a former business writer, I used to think that the coolest thing about the Internet was that it represented a totally new business model. After all, here was a marketplace where millions of dollars worth of transactions take place every day, and it’s not owned by anybody or run by anybody. It’s just out there. But now I’m coming to the conclusion that this business model is breaking down and needs to be radically revamped.

As a former business writer, I used to think that the coolest thing about the Internet was that it represented a totally new business model.

After all, here was a marketplace where millions of dollars worth of transactions take place every day, and it’s not owned by anybody or run by anybody. It’s just out there.

But now I’m coming to the conclusion that this business model is breaking down and needs to be radically revamped. Here are some sobering stats:

• The average Internet attack costs the average company $2 million in revenue, according to the Aberdeen Group.

• The cost of spam has more than doubled in the past 10 months, according to Nucleus Research.

• Spam and anti-spam protection cost computer users $25 billion last year, according to the United Nations.

• Research firm Computer Economics says viruses and worms cost $12.5 billion worldwide in 2003.

And who’s left holding the bag? It’s you, the IT executive. It’s not enough to keep your network running, to support your business units, to connect remote and mobile workers. You have to go one-on-one with hackers, spammers, phishers, spyware, worms and viruses.

But why should individual IT departments be the main line of defense against cybercrime? Why should major companies have to spend millions of dollars to re-invent the security wheel? The situation is like living in a town where there are no laws, cops or judges, and each homeowner has to board up the windows, put furniture against the door and sit up all night to fight off the bad guys. Consumers are starting to lose confidence in the Internet as a safe and reliable place to do business.

So where is the Internet community? Unfortunately, it has been unable to respond to these threats. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just that the Internet’s big strength – its lack of centralized control – is also its big weakness. If the Internet were a corporation, the CEO would drag all the players into a room, read everybody the riot act and not let anyone leave until a solution had been hammered out.

But there is simply no mechanism today for bringing all the parties together, coming up with a hard-nosed plan to fight cybercrime and then enforcing it.

Sure, there are groups such as the World Wide Web Consortium and IETF, but these are narrowly focused, engineering-oriented groups and they are part of the Internet culture that abhors any kind of government intervention.

But that’s what’s coming, unless the Internet community gets its act together. Yes, the U.N., through its ITU, now wants to gain some measure of control over the Internet. Check out the details at www.itu.int/osg/spu/spam.