Thursday, September 09, 2004

Security and customer relations

Tech industry presents less-than-unified defense

Last fall, the Blaster Internet worm slammed into Cable Bahamas like a digital hurricane, clogging Web connections for the tiny Internet service provider's 22,000 subscribers.

"We got hammered," says Andre Foster, technology vice president for the Nassau-based company.

After recovering from Blaster, Foster began to rethink his main line of defense against Web attacks. Instead of relying on home PC users to lock down individual machines, he acquired costly hardware and software designed to screen out suspicious data coming into and out of Cable Bahamas' local system.

The result: Cable Bahamas' subscribers have gone largely untouched by the flurry of Web attacks this year. "Somebody has got to step up and at least attempt to protect the end user, and that's what we're trying to do," Foster says.

Comparatively few other tech suppliers are going as far as Cable Bahamas to help secure the Internet.

As cybercriminals toil with near-impunity, tech companies in the best position to make the Web safer — Microsoft, Internet service providers and anti-virus software makers — are failing to respond effectively to a snowballing threat, say security experts and industry executives.

Tech suppliers say they're doing all they can to make it easier for home users to secure their own PCs: guiding consumers to a raft of products and services they can use to lock out cyberintruders. But critics say that's akin to making car drivers responsible for installing their own seat belts.

"As long as we rely on the end user as the primary mechanism to secure their own computer, we will continue to have large quantities of unsecured devices," says Mitchell Ashley, chief technology officer at StillSecure.

Precisely so.

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