Anyone can tell you its risky to put a bank branch with unlocked doors next to a freeway on-ramp. It doesnt take long for would-be robbers to notice the combination of an attractive target and a ready means of escape. Something similar is happening as Net-based businesses are generating an ever-larger revenue stream, while the aging architecture of the Internet lets criminals attack with ease and escape with impunity.
The unstable combination of rising temptation and growing opportunity on the Internet demands more attention than it usually gets from research groups such as the Internet2 consortium. As industry movers gather in Las Vegas for this weeks N+I event, wed like to enlist their help in urging these researchers to focus more intently on security as well as speed.
Internet2 (www.internet2.edu) is a university consortium with about 180 member institutions that collaborate in developing network applications and technology. Proponents of Internet2 proclaim its potential for enabling applications such as "digital libraries, virtual laboratories, distance-independent learning and tele-immersion." All of these depend on substantially greater bandwidth, with much better quality-of-service guarantees, than the Internet now offers. Network performance is likewise the most visible priority of the federal Next Generation Internet initiative (www.ngi.gov).
Were certainly in favor of these enhancements, and we look forward to the applications, many of which feature streaming media, but wed like to see much more emphasis on making the Internet a safer place to conduct transactions. If the forthcoming wave of next-generation applications cannot earn more money than it costs to prevent and recover from all-too-easy attacks, only academics and bureaucrats will be likely to create content.
There is some good news. Were pleased to see that IT providers, including AT&T and Intel, as well as top-flight schools such as MIT and USC, will participate in the Internet2 Public Key Infrastructure Labs effort at Dartmouth College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Whether high-bandwidth links are serving up access to remote scientific instruments or to mass-market entertainment and shopping, proper attention to security today (using facilities like those integrated into the IPv6 protocols) will lay a much-needed foundation for safety and trust.
By integrating authentication and authorization services into next-generation network offerings, research efforts can bring forth services that will pay their own way. An Internet that cant be trusted to hold the stakes wont inspire a new generation of e-business bets.