Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Net Gain Cyber-Sales Must Thwart Internet Pirates, Reach Buyers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Net Gain Cyber-Sales Must Thwart Internet Pirates, Reach Buyers

Article excerpt

As long as there's an Internet, hackers will be creating havoc, cracking computer codes for thrills or to steal.

But the risks to businesses of selling goods and processing transactions over the Internet probably will be minimal. One forecast places on-line fraud as less of a risk than telephone companies already face with cellular phones and toll calls.

No matter, dramatic cases of hackers breaking into systems have people scared. So the primary concern in the cyberspace marketplace is whether most customers will ever feel comfortable putting private financial data on the Internet.

"Probably the biggest problem is not one of technology, but consumer caution," said Magdalena Yesil, vice president at CyberCash Inc. in Redwood Shores, Calif., one of the companies developing secured payment systems for the Internet.

The issue of security on the Internet again is garnering considerable attention with the recent discovery of a serious flaw in Netscape, the most popular software used for transactions on the Web.

The flaw could enable someone to break Netscape's security coding system, and gain almost instant access to credit-card numbers, bank account information or other data that is supposed to be kept private in an on-line transaction.

Netscape officials recently emphasized that no thefts have occurred as a result of the flaw.

"We discovered a potential vulnerability," said Mike Homer, vice president for marketing at Netscape Communications Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. He said no thefts have been reported in nearly a year of transactions using Netscape software.

Homer said Netscape is moving immediately to fix the problem, and intends to soon have a new program available that can be downloaded from the company's site on the Web, which is where most people got the original version.

But the breach illustrates the risks involved in bold plans by many companies to conduct electronic shopping and banking over the Internet, a loose amalgam of thousands of computer networks all over the world.

The Internet's original purpose was to give researchers access to expensive computer resources. It has evolved into a medium that many believe will be the much-vaunted information superhighway of the future.

In this vision, the Internet would be the place to buy everything from flowers and groceries to airline tickets and bank certificates of deposit. But the openness of the Internet that makes it appealing to its fans also will make it difficult to keep secure.

The romanticized image of hackers is that they generally break into computer systems not to do damage, but to prove that they can.

"It's the digital equivalent of, `Why do people climb mountains?' " said Dave Crocker, a computer consultant on issues including Internet security in Sunnyvale, Calif. "Because they're there."

Increasingly, however, there are people intent on profiting from their abilities, he said.

Is any computer security system foolproof?

"I don't think anything can be totally secure," said Edward Reynolds, a consultant systems engineer in the Internet and New Media group at Electronic Data Systems Corp. …

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