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Master of your domain

Like a lot of our modern technology, you can trace the birth of the Internet to the military industrial complex, a cold war that spanned more than four decades of paranoia, and an almost pointless space race.

Like a lot of our modern technology, you can trace the birth of the Internet to the military industrial complex, a cold war that spanned more than four decades of paranoia, and an almost pointless space race.

When the Russians launched Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, the United States was shocked to realize that somehow they had fallen behind the game – today a beeping tin ball, tomorrow a platform to drop nukes on the White House. They created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the department of defence to re-establish America’s lead in military science and technology.

One of ARPA’s missions was to find a secure method of communicating between the Department of Defence and its auxiliaries, e.g. a missile silo somewhere in Backwater, Nebraska.

Crude computers emerged in the early 1960s, and it wasn’t long before ARPA looked for ways to connect computers. In 1965, they linked a Texas Instruments computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a System Development Corporation computer in Santa Monica, California, through a dedicated 1200 bits per second phone line. Another Digital Equipment Corporation computer was added to the mix to create the first experimental network. Later this network would become known as the ARPANET.

Since most of the research and development was conducted by university professors and scientists working within universities, it didn’t take long for the ARPANET technology to find its way into the research community. By 1971 there were 23 hosts on the network. Also in 1973, a man by the name of Ray Tomlinson invented the first e-mail program to send messages across the network. Around 1973, the name "Internet" was coined.

From there, the whole Internet concept evolved, diverging, converging, going through countless generations as the hardware, software and level of knowledge increases.

Remember Gopher? How about TelNet? These were the different kinds of Internets available, and while they relied on a basic protocol, they were not exactly compatible.

Enter the World Wide Web by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Contrary to what you may believe, the Web is not a concept, it’s a product. Different domains are available for use on the Web, including .com, .ca, and .org. These days the World Wide Web and the Internet are virtually synonymous, although the Web is still only one kind of Internet.

All of these domains are similar, and all are based on the same Web protocols. Since these protocols evolved so rapidly, and in such a patchwork, they are far from perfect.

The first computer virus shut down ARPANET in 1980. The first computer hacking took place soon afterwards and gave rise to new concerns about national security – the movie War Games was taken very seriously at the time because even the experts of the day believed the premise to be plausible if the nuclear arsenal was placed under the control of computers.

There are security holes to exploit in every generation of the Web. Various software programs and operating systems attempt to patch these security flaws, but as usual the hackers and virus programmers of the world make it a game to see who can breach the new security system first. Less than two weeks after the release of Windows XP, users had to download patch programs to protect credit card information and prevent their systems from being invaded, hijacked, or tampered with through the built-in Universal Plug and Play device.

As a result of this intrepid hacking, Web security and Web viruses have become one of the most important issues and obstacles facing the online world. Keeping mainframes secure from hackers and viruses is already a billion dollar industry, and yet almost every week there’s a story of a break-in or a virus-alert.

To fix the problem once and for all, Bill Gates and Microsoft are attempting to create a secure information sharing and transferring platform within the existing structure of the World Wide Web.

Microsoft announced it would shift its focus from software to the Internet back in 1996, and pioneered the XML platform to allow applications to "communicate and share data over the Internet, regardless of operating system, device or programming language." The XML Web services platform has since been named Microsoft.Net.

Put simply .Net is a different kind of Internet platform that allows computers and devices to communicate using a single root language, XML.

Rather than leave their computers open to hackers through a conventional Internet portal, .Net would allow businesses to specify what information can be accessed at what level, and, most importantly, by whom. In essence, it’s a dedicated Internet within the Internet that can only be what the companies using this platform want it to be.

For it to work, however, Microsoft has to prove without a shadow of doubt that .Net is secure. That won’t be easy: Many of the holes in programming that allowed hack attacks and the proliferation of viruses, costing companies billions to repair, are the result of Microsoft’s own programming flaws.

.Net is still in its infancy, as is the universal XML protocol. Gates hopes it will become the standard for business and home computing.

Microsoft will spend the next year ensuring .Net is completely secure, mostly to ease the concerns of companies that are interested in streamlining their Internet communications, but have been hurt before.

You can read about the .Net platform and what Bill Gates has to say about it at www.microsoft.net.

You can read about the history of the Internet by Robert H’obbes’ Zakon, Internet Evangelist, at www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/




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