Volume 11 (3) May/June 1997
How Secure is the Internet??
Security is a major concern for many users of the Internet. There are two aspects to security, firstly, the vulnerability of computers on the Internet to unauthorised access. This is a real concern as there are hackers whose sole intent is to break into networked computer. Hackers are usually not malicious, and simply view computer security systems as a challenge. However, there are malicious hackers who will break into a computer system with the aim of stealing, deleting or replacing information. It is important that computers on the Internet are configured and protected appropriately to minimise the risks of hacking. The second security concern regards the interception of information sent via the Internet. This could be information sent via e-mail, or personal details sent to a web site e.g. credit card information. It is relatively easy to intercept information on the Internet, and in fact computers can be used to search for particular pieces of information such as credit card numbers. In reality, however, there seem to be few reported incidents of data interception, this may be simply because of the large volume of data sent via the Internet and the fact that it could take a hacker a long time to find anything worthwhile. There are several technologies being developed to protect data on the Internet. Most of them rely on encryption (coding of data) where information is encrypted before being sent via the Internet and is decrypted (decoded) once delivered to the intended recipient. There are several levels of encryption, some more secure than others. Encryption technology makes it difficult to intercept information on the Internet. Many people around the world send confidential information on the Internet using this technology. Future developments on the Internet such as the proposed new protocols for Internet communication (IPng, or Internet II) will also improve security. An example of how encryption is used can be found on a newly launched secure server on PharmWeb. This server employs a system which encodes any information being sent to/from the server. The server will be used to allow users to make secure payments and also to enable projects involving confidential information e.g. patient information. If you would like to see what a secure web server looks like, go to the PharmWeb secure server at: https://secure.pharmweb.net/ (don't forget to enter https instead of http)
A number of new sections have recently been developed on PharmWeb. Two new discussion groups have been created, one for health professionals in Malaysia, and one for health professionals in Portugal. There is also a guide to the treatment of common ailments in the patient information section where advice on the treatment of conditions such as coughs and athletes foot may be found.
As usual, if you have found any interesting sites on the Internet that we have not listed on PharmWeb and that may be of interest to the pharmacy community, please let us know.
Dr. A. D'Emanuele