E-commerce experts weigh in on security and broadband

Calls for security and broadband access dominated conversations at a roundtable hosted last week by the Massachusetts Electronic Commerce Association.

Headlining the event was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Bruce Mehlman, who encouraged panelists to make their concerns heard in Washington, D.C., above the din of special-interest lobbyists. Too often, the U.S. Department of Commerce doesn’t communicate enough with true entrepreneurs, said Mehlman, Cisco Systems Inc.’s former telecommunications policy counsel.

Steve Elterich, president of Fidelity Investments Inc. eBusiness, made a case for wider distribution of broadband so that Fidelity could add more multimedia features to its Web sites. Iang Jeon, executive vice president for e-commerce at Pioneer Investment Management USA Inc., echoed Elterich’s desire for broadband and raised the issue of securing broadband connections.

Some of the onus of protecting Internet connections should fall on ISPs, suggested Simson Garfinkel, CTO at Sandstorm Enterprises Inc., which develops offensive information warfare tools – or “software that breaks into other computers,” Garfinkel said. Given the proliferation of readily available hacking tools, he said it’s criminal that ISPs are not automatically protecting their users through tactics such as virus scanning.

“There are other areas in our society where we adopt regulations saying what people can do with dangerous technology. Like refrigerators – if you throw it away, you have to take the door off so some child doesn’t die. You could imagine similar sorts of regulations or liabilities so ISPs have to provide firewall support, have to do virus screening of e-mail,” Garfinkel said.

Government, too, has a role to play in raising standards for e-commerce security, said Michon Schenck, president of Financial Fusion Inc. She pointed out that all federally chartered banks have to go through an annual exam that includes a security review of mission-critical applications. However, online banking is not part of that review process, said Schenck, whose firm offers software for financial services companies. “Not only is it not considered in the mission-critical category, it’s actually not even reviewed,” she said.

Garfinkel hammered home just how serious security risks are: He cited a document that describes strategies for infecting 90 per cent or 100 per cent of vulnerable machines on the Internet within 5 minutes. “We know how to do this,” Garfinkel said.

Playing the role of soothsayer to Garfinkel’s scaremonger was Timothy Rowe, a venture capitalist and co-director of the Digital Business Strategy track at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. The next generation of biometric technologies will be incredibly cheap and incredibly accurate compared to its predecessors, Rowe said.

He cited a project to create handgun components that restrict non-owners from firing a particular weapon, as well as a battery-operated system of LEDs that shines light onto a person’s skin for identification. “What’s really exciting about biometrics is not this technology, but the fact that when you take two or three of them and put them together, they get almost completely unbreakable,” Rowe said.

Scott Kirsner, a Boston Globe columnist and contributing editor to Fast Company, moderated the panel. Also participating were: Dan Bricklin, founder and chief technology officer at Trellix Corp.; Brian Burdick, vice president of portal services at Terra-Lycos USA; Chip Hazard, general partner at IDG Ventures; Chris Heidelberger, president and CEO of ChannelWave; Nuala O’Connor Kelly, chief counsel for Technology Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce; Curt Lefebvre, president and CEO of NeuCo; and Ron Matros, CEO of iConverse.

Mass eComm is a Boston-based organization dedicated to promoting e-commerce.

Mass eComm is online at http://www.massecomm.org/.

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