COMPUTER BUSINESS REVIEW

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Issue Date: August 2000 (es)

Satellite can beat the FUD blues for e-commerce

1 August 2000

The FUD factor is slowly seeping into the electronic commerce world, oozing fear, uncertainty and doubt into the minds of those who delve in the realms of innovative business technology. FUD tightens its grip on those who dared, trusted and leapt at the opportunity to enhance their business communications by using this medium. F-U-D: fear, uncertainty, doubt - three powerful and very crippling emotions at the heart of South African business people today. Not for the economic climate, nor the political ditherings of northern neighbours but rather for that which has taken South Africa - and the rest of the globe - by storm: e-commerce.
The concept of e-commerce is unequivocally ingenious, bringing to the commercial world opportunities previously only ever dreamed of. But with the promise of increased business comes the hidden threat of potentially crippling diseases - viruses and malicious codes, designed to attack the very core of your business information and records. Take the Spanish Worm, for instance - also known as Timofonika. It crippled Spanish telephone networks in days, using Spain's cellular network for the spread of malicious code.
South Africa could soon face a worse situation: the cellular networks will soon be publishing a cellphone directory, making all registered cellphone numbers available for public consumption. Once available in hard copy, such a listing can be scanned, creating an instant database for marketing companies to use in a blitz of SMS messages to hundreds of thousands or millions of consumers. "Imagine the congestion this could cause to an already overloaded cellular system," warns Ian Melamed, MD of Ian Melamed Secure Computing. "Mailboxes have a limited capacity and once filled with messages - whether voice or SMS - they close. The network, however, continues trying to send the message to the recipient, clogging up the system. Once enough people use this new medium, it could actually pull down our entire cellular system. The networks already suffer from overuse and without a third cellular licensed operator and an increase in bandwidth, this increase in sheer volume could degrade our cellular service to the point of collapse."
Melamed points out how FUD also lurks behind another promising technology. Wireless application protocol (WAP) is often cited as the next essential accessory to connectivity, enabling Internet access, including e-mail and Internet relay chat (IRC) via cellphone. With the processing powers of WAP-enabled systems increasing and many now operable through normal desktop-type computer environments, there could soon be no need for specialised operating systems. "It will not be long before there exists a universal Microsoft Windows-based WAP system," notes Melamed. "We will see a merger of what we have understood to be completely separate modes of communication - from palmtops to handheld cellphones to desktops to servers - with Windows 2000 sitting on the desktop the same way it sits on the server. More intelligence is being built into increasingly smaller packages, spread across a broader base - enabling increased communication between systems. Such uniformity of operating system then makes us even more vulnerable to the infiltration of malicious code and viruses."
The adage that the only safe computer system is one that is turned off is not far wrong but that achieves nothing. But clearly prevention is better than cure. Users need to be educated on security aspects, equipping them to make informed decisions regarding the degree of accessibility they should allow to protect their own information. As the various viruses have demonstrated, the potential for damage is exponential - the more people using the system, the greater the damage potential.
How can we ease the FUD factor?
Only with trust and time. Melamed draws a 'trust equation' for the e-commerce environment: trust = speed + security and stresses we need to look to the skies for our solution. "The only way we can beat the spread of a virus through the Internet is through faster systems and there is nothing faster than satellite to broadcast the retention and removal of a virus before it can spread. While this can never prevent the initiation of a virus, it narrows the window of opportunity to cause damage by preventing its dissemination. There is nothing faster than satellite speed, so virus protection can be just as fast. The quicker the detection and protection, the less damage can occur in the e-commerce environment.
"e-commerce demands availability, deliverability and immediacy. We have given people the expectation of now, so they demand it. Trust equals fast and safe; so trust equals satellite-safe. With the introduction of satellite broadcast footprints dedicated to South Africa as well as Europe and the rest of the world, this will be achieved," concluded Melamed.
For details, contact Ian Melamed of Ian Melamed Secure Computing on tel: 086 011 011 or e-mail: ian@ianmelamed.com


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