President Clinton has asked Congress to support a next-generation Internet that "will operate up to a thousand times faster than today."
He has every right to think this is achievable, as most of the technologies are probably available. But they are available from a broad variety of suppliers, each in a proprietary way. The result will not be the Internet model of a ubiquitous, open network, but a series of fragmented and potentially proprietary networks that may be efficient but lack the full customer reach.
Support is also needed for the Internet we have now, when speed isn't the most pressing issue. The real issues are more fundamental-reliability, security, and most of all, trust.
Major corporations need to be more outspoken in their demands for the promise that the Internet has so aptly demonstrated. The financial services sector, which is most at risk with its intensely value-oriented transactions, should be leading the charge to ensure that the public network is a trusted mechanism for business to be conducted.
Unlike public infrastructures like the telephone network, which was established with a standard set of specifications, the Internet has left major corporations and financial institutions vulnerable and without any standard way of protecting themselves-from either a technological or policy perspective. They therefore protect anything of real value with closed networks or intranets.
Banks are reporting that with a low profit margin on each transaction, even low-level fraud can create an unacceptable business risk. The Brookings Institution report to Congress on Internet vulnerabilities talks about the number of companies with legacy systems attached to the Internet, many of the interconnections having minimal or nonexistent security.
So when the President in his State of the Union address asked for congressional support for the Internet, it was no small thing. Internet experts expect $116 billion of electronic commerce by 2000, with $900 million of electronic cash transferred. That will not be possible with the loose management of networks and standards we have today. Nor will it be possible through a series of proprietary systems.
All the security technology in the world will add up to nothing if there is insufficient trust in the services provided on the Internet. Trust is not awarded or automatically gained by virtue of using security technology. It is earned.
The financial services industry deals in trust, and traditionally that trust between institutions has not been broken. Swift, for example, enabled bank cooperation on a technical network moving trillions of dollars, based on a secure shared infrastructure and trust among all parties.
The financial sector and technology suppliers must together define approaches for Internet transactions, including customer payments, credit authorizations, interbank transactions, and certificate authority operations. These cannot and should not be dominated by one supplier, but should be based on agreed specifications, standards, and policies.