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Why the Internet Is Vulnerable

Many early network protocols that now form part of the Internet infrastructure were designed without security in mind. Without a fundamentally secure infrastructure, network defense becomes more difficult. Furthermore, the Internet is an extremely dynamic environment, in terms of both topology and emerging technology.

Because of the inherent openness of the Internet and the original design of the protocols, Internet attacks in general are quick, easy, inexpensive, and may be hard to detect or trace. An attacker does not have to be physically present to carry out the attack. In fact, many attacks can be launched readily from anywhere in the world - and the location of the attacker can easily be hidden. Nor is it always necessary to "break in" to a site (gain privileges on it) to compromise confidentiality, integrity, or availability of its information or service.

Even so, many sites place unwarranted trust in the Internet. It is common for sites to be unaware of the risks or unconcerned about the amount of trust they place in the Internet. They may not be aware of what can happen to their information and systems. They may believe that their site will not be a target or that precautions they have taken are sufficient. Because the technology is constantly changing and intruders are constantly developing new tools and techniques, solutions do not remain effective indefinitely.

Since much of the traffic on the Internet is not encrypted, confidentiality and integrity are difficult to achieve. This situation undermines not only applications (such as financial applications that are network-based) but also more fundamental mechanisms such as authentication and nonrepudiation (see the section on basic security concepts for definitions). As a result, sites may be affected by a security compromise at another site over which they have no control. An example of this is a packet sniffer that is installed at one site but allows the intruder to gather information about other domains (possibly in other countries).

Another factor that contributes to the vulnerability of the Internet is the rapid growth and use of the network, accompanied by rapid deployment of network services involving complex applications. Often, these services are not designed, configured, or maintained securely. In the rush to get new products to market, developers do not adequately ensure that they do not repeat previous mistakes or introduce new vulnerabilities.

Compounding the problem, operating system security is rarely a purchase criterion. Commercial operating system vendors often report that sales are driven by customer demand for performance, price, ease of use, maintenance, and support. As a result, off-the-shelf operating systems are shipped in an easy-to-use but insecure configuration that allows sites to use the system soon after installation. These hosts/sites are often not fully configured from a security perspective before connecting. This lack of secure configuration makes them vulnerable to attacks, which sometimes occur within minutes of connection.

Finally, the explosive growth of the Internet has expanded the need for well-trained and experienced people to engineer and manage the network in a secure manner. Because the need for network security experts far exceeds the supply, inexperienced people are called upon to secure systems, opening windows of opportunity for the intruder community.

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Copyrights 2006 Eugene Mihailov. All rights reserved