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Hardware and Network issues in e-commerce

This review will discuss the issues and outline some future developments related to the three most prominent forms of network technology, broadband, m-commerce and wireless broadband. What is broadband? A good definition of broadband is: “Broadband refers to any communication technology that permits clients to play streaming video and audio files at acceptable speeds – generally anything above 100 Kbps” (Laudon and Traver, 2002).

Typically, broadband is characterised by very high upload and download speeds and most interestingly it is an ‘always-on’ technology as opposed to narrowband where the user has to ‘dial-up’ to the server every time they begin a new session on the internet, whereas with broadband the user simply has to click on the internet icon on their desktop and they are instantly linked to home page of their choice. Types of broadband There are many types of broadband access available to the internet user.

The most commonly used type of broadband connections made by the general consumer is via cable modem and DSL connections. Cable Modem is usually used by consumers who cannot get DSL connections in their area or who live in a cabled area and is characterised as a shared network service. Internet connection is ‘piggybacked’ on the television signal received by consumers who have cable television. It generally has greater bandwidth capabilities than DSL. MDR – 128 Kbps-10,000 Kbps.

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There are no less than six types of DSL connections that can be made, these can range from a puny 40 Kbps (kilobits per second) offered through Rate-Adaptive DSL (RDSL) to an impressive 51 Mbps (Mega bits per second) through using Very High Data Rate DSL (VDSL). There are also other types of broadband access such as T1 and the faster T3 (mainly used by businesses) with speeds of up to 45,000 Kbps. Also there are fiber optic connections such as OC12 and OC48, with OC48 connecting as fast as 2,488,000 Kbps (Plunkett Research, 2004; Shultz, 2001).

Issues with broadband Due to it’s shared network characteristics, Cable broadband users are subject to unauthorized access to their system in the same way LAN user could gain unauthorized into other systems. Also, in order to get DSL the user has to live within 12,000 to 18,000 feet to get it (Robson, 2000; Shultz, 2001). These are some issues concerned with the two most common broadband connections, however there are a few other issues concerned with broadband. Security

As more and more ISP’s are beginning to provide broadband access, the competition is heating up. Due to this stiff competition, ISP’s are confronted with stiff price competition, so as price is the basis of competition, other factors such as security are being overlooked (especially in the DSL and Cable segments) by ISP’s, as adding such features will increase costs to the ISP, hence the consumer. As broadband is a relatively new and expensive technology, consumers at the moment are only concerned with actually getting broadband.

So they will go for the ISP that provides the broadband service at the most competitive price, “this has let consumers skirt the issue” says Brian Robson (Robson, 2000). The reason that consumers are largely unaware of the security issues associated with broadband is because it is an ‘always on’ service as opposed to ‘dial-up’, which has previously been used. Dial-up uses dynamic IP addressing. This basically means that every time the user ‘dial’s up’ the IP address of that user changes and as hackers need to know the IP address of a user to hack into their line, their ‘hacking’ becomes limited.

Broadband’s ‘always on’ feature however, uses static IP addressing in that the IP address of the user is always the same, hence the hacker can attack a user at anytime they want to and for as long as they want (Robson, 2000). This inherent weakness in broadband could be disastrous for businesses. Because of the high speed and always on properties of broadband, a business can use a PC connected to the internet as a node in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to gain access to the cooperate Local Area Network (LAN).

Hackers who gain access to this remote PC can then access the corporate LAN from it and avoid all the security features installed on the corporate LAN designed to keep hackers out (Robson, 2000). Solutions to security There are two types of security measures, software only and hardware only. Such software based security measures are very cost-effective. Network ICE Corp sells a Windows NT software called BlackICE Defender which has firewall and intrusion detection facilities for only $40 (Robson, 2000) However these ‘software only’ solutions have their drawbacks.

Mike Martucci of Watchdog Technologies Inc. says “hackers can tie up a system’s resources while trying to get through these barriers, causing a major drag on the performance of the system”. A user who is not that IT literate would attribute the slowdown to problems with the network, and even if they did realise that their system was being attacked, the only way to stop it for certain would be to turn the connection off, which contradicts the concept of the ‘always on’ feature of broadband (Robson, 2000).

The other approach is the hardware approach. This is where a hardware product sits in between the PC and the network such as a router. An example of such a product would be the R9100 from Netopia, which can support up to 50 PC’s on a LAN and has various in built security features such as a firewall. and VPN support facilities (Shultz, 2001).

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