Protection for a Broadband Net

The Internet story of 2000, we all know, was Napster. But the story behind the story was a growing mass market of broadband connections to the Internet.

Without broadband, music and video downloads just don’t make sense. The Napster wars mainly took place on college campuses, where desktop broadband is widely available.

So desktop broadband is the trend behind the trend. As this trend gains momentum and more clients become as capable as servers, the security risks we face also increase.

I know this firsthand. I have had a DSL modem on my personal machine for almost two years. It’s great; I can respond to your emails immediately and deliver a dozen links to my copy in a few minutes.

But power can also make you vulnerable. I have learned this personally since EarthLink, my DSL provider, sent me a free copy of Norton Personal Firewall.

At least once a week, and sometimes more often, the program tells me some unknown computer is trying to access my line for some unknown reason. It could be a spider wondering if a web page is lurking on the connection. Or it could be a hacker looking for an IP address from which to launch a denial-of-service attack on someone else’s machine.

EarthLink can’t protect me. The best the company can do is give me a one-year trial of the software. (I plan to buy a new license when it expires.) The cops can’t protect me. There are just too many vulnerable machines out there for any police force.

No, it will take something akin to what my street has been fortunate to have for over 30 years: a Neighborhood Watch. A few weeks ago webmaster Johannes Ullrich and Euclidian Consulting took the first steps toward creating such a watch by launching dshield.

dshield pools information from thousands of attacked computers to compile statistics identifying things such as the most common addresses used by hackers and the ports most often attacked by their programs. The site also offers links, instructions for submitting logs, and a mailing list.

A Neighborhood Watch can be a powerful thing. During the 1980s, when my part of Atlanta was a high-crime district, the crime rate here was one-third less than on neighboring streets. We also had a better sense of community and a greater feeling of hope as a result of monthly meetings featuring coffee, cookies, and a little prayer.

Since this area began to gentrify, a process that started a few years ago, our meetings have become less frequent and less well attended. People with money often lack the time for such niceties. I have been trying to bring back those connections, and in fact, last night we hosted a Christmas open house for the block.

It’s an uphill fight. There are times when I call a meeting, and no one shows up. But I’m going to keep trying, partly because it’s worthwhile and partly in memory of the great neighbors who were here when I moved in.

We need that same spirit on the Internet. The good people on the Net need to do the simple things to protect themselves, not rely solely on public or private police for protection. The Net needs more Neighborhood Watches.

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