Can the Free Internet Survive? - Page 2

Despite Bill Gates rosy assurances than the security problem is about "50 percent solved," does anybody really believe it? My perception is that the more people use the Internet, the more they fear it.

Sure, they like what the Internet does for them—such as shopping and Google—but they dont really care how those services are delivered. And they see Internet threats, whatever the source, as increasingly serious. At some point, the Internet just wont be worth the hassle and worry.

Will our grandchildren come to see the era of an open Internet as a relic of a more naive time? My bet is that biometrics and other authentication technology will "soon" do away with anonymous access to any Internet resource. Every packet on the Internet will be directly traceable back to a machine and a human thats responsible for it.

If that "soon" doesnt come soon enough, and the Internets other security gaps cannot be filled, its possible that the very concept of a public Internet will be replaced by closed, private services.

In this scenario, the Internet reverts to something like its closed ARPANET predecessor: Consumers go back to closed but interconnected networks such as AOL and CompuServe, and businesses subscribe to a network of their own.

Novell and AT&T once proposed the creation of their own private Internet to offer customers better performance and greater security. Such a network could run its own protocols and wouldnt be open to individuals, thus reducing risk to network customers.

In my dark thoughts, I wonder if Microsoft, IBM and other big players wouldnt be better off if the current Internet failed and was replaced by a new, more private one. But for that to happen would be a terrible blow to the free, global flow of information and commerce.

Im not saying Microsoft, IBM, et al actually want this to happen. The risk to the existing order would be too great and the potential for disaster too large. Yet if free commerce and information cannot be built atop a safe and secure foundation, arent we fooling ourselves that they really exist at all?

Things are going to change. Im just not sure if it will be for the better.

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