Many of the information resources that are made available and maintained in distributed systems have a high intrinsic value to their users. Their security is therefore of considerable importance. Security for information resources has three components:
confidentiality (protection against disclosure to unauthorized individuals), integrity (protection against alteration or corruption), and availability (protection against interference with the means to access the resources).
the Internet allows a program in one computer to communicate with a program in another computer irrespective of its location, security risks are associated with allowing free access to all of the resources in an intranet. Although a firewall can be used to form a barrier around an intranet, restricting the traffic that can enter and leave, this does not deal with ensuring the appropriate use of resources by users within an intranet, or with the appropriate use of resources in the Internet, that are not protected by firewalls.
In a distributed system, clients send requests to access data managed by servers, which involves sending information in messages over a network. For example:
1. A doctor might request access to hospital patient data or send additions to that data.
2. In electronic commerce and banking, users send their credit card numbers across the Internet.
In both examples, the challenge is to send sensitive information in a message over a network in a secure manner. But security is not just a matter of concealing the contents of messages – it also involves knowing for sure the identity of the user or other agent on whose behalf a message was sent. In the first example, the server needs to know that the user is really a doctor, and in the second example, the user needs to be sure of the identity of the shop or bank with which they are dealing. The second challenge here is to identify a remote user or other agent correctly. Both of these challenges can be met by the use of encryption techniques developed for this purpose.
However, the following two security challenges have not yet been fully met:
Denial of service attacks: Another security problem is that a user may wish to disrupt a service for some reason. This can be achieved by bombarding the service with such a large number of pointless requests that the serious users are unable to use it. This is called a denial of service attack. There have been several denials of service
attacks on well-known web services. Currently, such attacks are countered by attempting to catch and punish the perpetrators after the event, but that is not a general solution to the problem. Countermeasures based on improvements in the management of networks are under development.
Security of mobile code: Mobile code needs to be handled with care. Consider someone who receives an executable program as an electronic mail attachment: the possible effects of running the program are unpredictable; for example, it may seem to display an interesting picture but in reality it may access local resources, or perhaps be part of a denial of service attack.
Frequently Asked Questions
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