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What a "Second Internet" Means for Small Business
 

What if you could conduct business on a second, more secure Internet?

"A second net would cause more confusion and that existing security precautions are working." - Scott Goldman

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For some, the idea of a more secure Internet makes sense: all transactions would be safe from criminals and hackers who routinely break into corporate servers and deface websites. This second Internet would run alongside the main Internet but use an entirely different network of servers and IP addresses.

Curiously, the idea has germinated for some time, and in many ways is already here. Hewlett-Packard runs a private network called Visual Collaboration Extend that does not touch the main Internet.

Meanwhile, Facebook is a second Internet where many business owners share coupons, interact with customers, and even operate a business page without ever venturing using their own .com domain. Private networks that connect branch offices are common and do not use the private net.

Some security experts like the idea because online identity theft is now a major concern. Yet, several experts told Inc.com that a second internet is a terrible idea, one that will cause confusion with small business owners and may even lead to more serious technical problems—like revenue loss.

How you view the idea may depend on how you do business, your resources for handling online security on your own, and even your preference for how you attract customers.

Advocating for a Second Net
Several experts told Inc.com that a second Internet is inevitable. One in particular was adamant that larger companies should start thinking about how this would all work.

“The primary Internet can't provide the level of service on a constant basis for a number of the services—particularly server to server—required by large entities,” says Rob Enderle, an analyst with Enderle Group. “A second Internet for business and government would be vastly more controlled and likely more expensive but provide the guarantees this class of customer demands.”

The implication is that this second tier would eventually appeal to smaller firms. However, Enderele says much of the technology is already in place: Google could merely change a few settings to a fiber network to create a strong second network for business use. For now, Enderle advises smaller companies to keep an eye on this space and make sure they have strong online encryption now.

Geoff Webb, a director at Credant Technologies, a company that makes endpoint and encryption software, says a second Internet makes sense because it could lead to more privacy online. He says a new domain, called .secure (e.g., www.businessname.secure), could operate apart from the public Internet. Companies could offer service level agreements for better privacy. 

“Some degree of global network access control could be put in place on a second Internet, watching systems that enter the dot.secure world to ensure that are sufficiently secure,” says Webb. “This already occurs when systems connect to secure corporate or government networks, but the opportunity to potentially apply it on a broader scale could result in improved security for all systems.”

Earl Boebert, a retired senior scientist from the Sandia National Labs, is an advocate for a second Internet because online threats are rising. Many users routinely type in credit card numbers to make purchases without considering how their data could be stolen.

Boebert says small businesses should watch this space carefully—it could become a “bet the company” decision over the next few years because a second net will provide a way to protect revenue streams. A secure net would provide a way for businesses to restrict what a user can do. For example, only a portion of a company site would be available for a specific transaction.

Ori Eisen, founder and chief information officer of 41st Parameter, a fraud prevention company, says a second Internet could work if it encouraged better user registrations, added extra security layers to prevent tampering, used better authentication, and involved bank verifications.

Of course, this could all mean a slower Internet—the public net would speed along like an autobahn and the second net would slow down to make sure customer information is secure. That could be a worthwhile compromise if it meant more privacy and better transactions.

Second Internet Opponents
The debate over a second Internet reached a fever pitch recently when Patrick Dempsey, a chief information security officer for Janney Montgomery Scott and a former FBI agent, advocated for a second Internet. Commenters reacted with vigorous disapproval against the blog post. Most of the contention has to do with building an entirely new infrastructure that must be maintained and guarded, which could be a Herculean undertaking even with government sponsorship. In fact, the opponents of a second network for business were by far the most vocal.

“[Security on the Internet] is a huge problem, but a second network won't solve the problem,” argues Dan Shust, a director at Resource Interactive, a marketing agency. “We need better software, better security infrastructure in association with credit card companies and better education surrounding personal data protection, especially for our generation of digital natives that have grown up with a completely open sense of privacy and data sharing.”

Anthony Lang, an account executive at Catalyst, another marketing agency, argues that a second net would hurt small business. He says many smaller companies derive their sales by attracting customers using blogs, Facebook, and other non-transactional means, but a second net would make the process disjointed and maybe even derail e-commerce.

Lang says a second net already exists anyway: all of the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile apps that customers use which are often disconnected from primary e-commerce portals.

One small business owner said building a second net is serious overkill. Scott Goldman is the CEO of TextPower, a company that integrates text messaging into business operations. By his estimation, a second net would cause more confusion and that existing security precautions are working. He says customers would get confused by which Internet and browser to use.

Dimitri Sirota, a vice president at security firm Layer 7 Technology, pulled no punches about the second Internet concept: he says the idea is doomed from the start.

He says human nature dictates that people want openness and freedom, that past attempts at closed networks (like AOL) never materialized, and that a second net would likely just evolve to become more like the public Internet anyway. He says anytime anyone proposes a more closed system, such as verified e-mail systems for business, the technology never really works out.

In the end, if the idea of a second Internet does gain momentum, there will be challenges. The costs could be astronomical, and the U.S. government would have to get involved. And, even the experts in favor of a secure net said there will be technical and political challenges. 

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: Aug 3, 2011

JOHN BRANDON is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.
@jmbrandonbb




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