, Research Paper
Opportunities and Challenges of the Internet
In a world of light-speed data transmission, any individual with little training and expertise can make a fortune from the Internet. Many companies, like E-bay or Amazon.com, thrive from business done only through Internet transactions. As computer technology progresses, data transmission becomes faster, and as high level encryption becomes available for public use, the amount of Internet consumers also grows. Technology advances also allow employees to work from home faster and safer.
A manager’s first challenge is to create a presence on the web. With a phone line, computer, and HyperText Markup Language (HTML) authoring tools, a business can advertise or do business over the Internet. HTML authoring tools can be freeware, like Sausage Software’s Hot Dog, or advanced and expensive utilities like Microsoft Front Page. Any computer user familiar with a word processor can effectively use these applications with minimal training. Putting the HTML and graphic files on an Internet service provider’s (ISP) servers is sufficient for relatively low traffic sites. Some online businesses, like Amazon.com, handle hundreds of thousands of people, or hits, everyday. They require specialized hardware and cabling to control the vast amount of traffic on there site per day.
A manager’s second challenge is to make the business’s web site visible on the Internet. The first step in this process would be registering a domain name. Every computer connected to the Internet has a unique number attached to it called an IP address. To simplify finding specific computers on the ‘Net, the numbers where substituted with alias called domain names. The names come in two levels, before and after the “dot”. Fees are generally a $70 startup cost then $35 per year to hold the license of the name. Network Solutions Inc. is the official registrar of domain names. Individuals in the past have registered company names, like Coca-Cola, to themselves and then sold the domain license to the company for thousands of dollars. There are currently more than four million domain names registered with Network Solutions. Domain name registration is not required but makes your site much easier to find.
Another way to make your site visible is to register certain keywords with the most popular search engines like Yahoo! and Alta Vista. Keywords are a small number of words that describe your site and business. These are the words web surfers will most likely type in to find your page. Advertising on other’s sites is also an effective method of promoting your site.
The manager’s third and most difficult task will be to make the web site useful, easy to use, and quick to load. An example of a great web site is the book sales site run by Amazon.com. The site doesn’t contain any complex graphics and loads quickly. If the webmaster can hold his breath while the page is loading, it is considered a quickly loading page. The order and search system is easy and quick to use. The user can easily find and interpret any relevant data. In contrast, Microsoft’s corporate site is a terrible example of what a company’s web site should look like. The page takes a long time to load and often crashes Netscape Navigator. Most importantly, it is almost impossible to find any useful informational on Microsoft’s site. Any downloads or technical support message boards are buried and passworded. The passwords are free and easy to obtain but you must give Microsoft information about yourself some surfers are uncomfortable with giving out, especially to Microsoft.
The most significant reason for a manager to have his company accessible on the Internet is to spread the company’s name throughout the entire world. Before any manager should think about creating a web presence and before any boss should approve it, a clear plan for contents and implementation should be made. The ‘Net doesn’t need anymore useless sites like Pepsi’s and Nike’s corporate sites. A web page without any useful information will not create return visitors. A web site without focus will create frustration among surfers. Amazon.com has one goal: sell books. Pepsi’s site, dripping with corporate propaganda, is a haphazard listing of products and sponsored concerts. A manager should decide the main reason to create a web presence. Is it to provide a service, like E-bay? Is it to sell a product, like Amazon.com? Is it to allow customers direct access to technical and customer support?
An important part in drawing returning visitors is keeping track of where people are looking most frequently in your site. A simple script from a programming language called Common Gateway Interface (CGI) can be used to keep track of how many surfers go where. Most ISPs offer CGI scripting services.
A better way to track how people use your site is e-mail response forms. The amount of data you receive will be much less than the CGI scripting but more valuable as you get to read surfer’s opinions about your site, not just where they’ve been. Most HTML authoring tools, like Hot Dog and Front Page can easily set up these forms. Unethical webmasters can secretly obtain information about surfer’s computers, like the user’s name and the software currently being used in the system, through this method. Amazon.com uses this method to simplify shipping. By typing in your name, address, and billing information once, it remembers the information on every other order.
Another, and sometimes secondary, concern is security. A manager must be careful that, wherever the files are kept, that they are secure. Any random cracker or serious hacker can break into the most secure system. The Pentagon and the FBI have been hacked numerous times. These instances represent concentrated and targeted efforts by hackers looking for recognition. Hacks can range from graffiti to industrial espionage. Most likely Internet business are more concerned with credit card fraud and password crackers. Both credit card fraud and password cracking is surprisingly easy. The algorithms are taught in any high school-level programming or algebra class. Even 128-bit military level encryption can be broken, it only takes long than standard 40-bit.
Even the best firewall, password, and encryption technology is useless if your employees are susceptible to “emotional engineering.” Most employees will give up information if asked in the right way. Even if a manager’s employees don’t know administrator or supervisor passwords, they can give away seemingly unimportant bits of information that are actually vital tidbits to hackers. An employee’s greyware is your most important asset. Social Security numbers should not be counted as a valid form of identification. They are only slightly harder to find than phone numbers.
Every serious systems administrator and manager should read the Rainbow Books. According to the Department of Defense, the Rainbow Books are “. . .released by the Department of Defense, in coalition with other organizations, in attempt to inform System Administrators of information which is vital to computer network systems.” Each book, titled after a color, defines the governments network security procedures. The books give new meaning to the phrase “Close enough for government work.”
Security concerns are most pressing when managers have telecommuting employees. Any family member could pick up information vital to the company’s interests whether by accident or on purpose. A manager should define security procedures and password restrictions. Names and birthdays should be strictly off limits. Passwords should be alpha-numeric. Stings with both letters and numbers are almost impossible for software to crack and often too complicated to crackers to guess at. Family members are especially susceptible to emotional engineering and must be warned any information learned can never be passed on to anyone.
A new networking technology, called Domain and Type Enforcement (DTE), allow managers and system administrators to give files specific levels of security according to the file’s sensitivity. Other networking products like, Novell Netware, has offered similar features but DTE introduces standards for file protection and simplifies the process of protecting files. DTE protection doesn’t prevent hackers from gaining illegal access to servers but it does drastically reduce the scale on which they can do damage by restricting the amount of files they have access to.
Any enterprising manager can make a fortune from nothing by using the Internet as a medium. Yahoo! has made it’s owners millions and has triple digit stock prices. A company with a focused and useful web site and take advantage of hundreds of millions of surfers.
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