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The Internet and its Impact on Society Essay

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The internet has its roots in the space program. When the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite, President Eisenhower formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency. (ARPA). The mission of this agency was to assist the dominance of the United States in technology that would assist the military. By 1968, packets had been developed to facilitate data transfer. These packets are hard to intercept and decode, since the total message is split up among many packets. These packets could travel several different routes, so if one route became unavailable, possibly from a nuclear attack, then the message could still reach its destination via another route.

This technology was named Packet Switching Networking (Marsh 2007, p. 1).

In 1969 the Department of Defense formed ARPANET. The purpose of this network was to research the upcoming possibilities. The first node was located at the University of California – Los Angeles, with nodes installed shortly afterward at Stanford, the University of California – Santa Barbara, and at the University of Utah.

Thus in 1969, there were a total of four nodes on this network. This is considered the birth of the internet (Marsh 2007, p. 2).

The 1970s was a landmark decade for the internet. Email was first created in 1971. By now, there were 15 nodes and 23 hosts on the ARPANET. In 1973, the first international node was established on ARPANET at the University College of London. Both Ethernet protocols and File Transfer Protocols (FTP) were developed. The commercial version of ARPANET, named Telenet, was placed in operation in 1974 as the first packet service for the public. In 1975, Queen Elizabeth sent her first Email (Marsh 2007, p. 3).

By 1984, there were over 1,000 hosts on the internet. The concept of the Domain Server Name (DNS) was introduced, so that instead of a series of numbers, the user could remember a name of the host. The number of hosts exploded in the late 1980s. By 1986, there were 5,000  hosts. The number increased to 280,000 in 1987 and 100,000 in 1989. In 1991 CERN released the World Wide Web (WWW), and by 1993 the number of hosts had increased to 2,000,000 (Marsh 2007, p. 3).

Commercialization of the internet began in the mid 1990s. Shopping malls, the US Senate and House of Representatives, and banks had all joined the internet revolution. By 1997 there were 19.5 million hosts and over 1 million WWW sites (Marsh 2007, p. 7). This extremely rapid growth was at times unregulated. Indeed, the growth outpaced society’s ability to deal with the impact that this technology was going to have. For all the benefit that the information age has provided, there are just as many pitfalls. The dominance of this one technological beast in the world today has made the globe much smaller than aviation ever did.

The continued expansion of the internet has brought to the forefront many different ethical questions. These can be grouped into some fairly broad categories. First, there is the criminal element that utilizes the internet for criminal profiteering, exploitation, and hacking. Second, the extreme amount of information available makes research both easier and easily subject to dishonesty.

Plagiarism has always been an issue in the academic world. Now with virtually millions of academic articles available at a keystroke, it has never been easier. Thirdly, Corporate America has utilized the internet for bulk mailing, unwanted pop-up advertisements, and other basically annoying retail behavior. They also utilize the internet for corporate spying, invasive employee monitoring, and other questionable activities. Lastly, the internet has provided an environment for pornography, intimate contact, and other ethically questionable behavior.

The criminal element of our society has latched onto the internet. With thousands of transactions posted through the internet each hour, identity theft is common. In identity theft, the  perpetrator steals the identity in order to commit some other crime. Most often, this new crime is fraud. The criminal either intercepts the information or, more likely, convinces the individual to provide the information through the email. If the criminal is disguised as a legitimate business, then the activity is called Phishing. The criminal will take the personal information he has received and either open new credit card and other transaction accounts or simply steal out of the account numbers he has received from the unsuspecting victim. The victim may not even realize the theft occurred for months (Arnold 2000, p. 1-8).

While identity theft is a property crime, other criminals use the internet to prey on children. The will communicate with younger children in chat rooms, often posing as a child themselves. Commonly, these pedophiles will attempt to lure these children into meeting them somewhere, like the mall. When they meet the children, they then have the opportunity to molest, kidnap, or otherwise harm them.

Hacking was seen at one time as harmless fun. Now hackers can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage including lost income, cost to fix the damage done, and loss of customers. Infected computers cause havoc all over the network. Hackers are prosecuted when they are caught, but the methods that they use make identification difficult.

There are no easy solutions to the criminal use of the internet. The best defense against identity theft is education. Educating the public on why they should not give there password, social security numbers, and addresses to those they do not know is a start. There are already laws against this. Better and more public enforcement may have an effect. Encryption of data being transmitted over the internet is another way to secure it. This is already being done by the financial institutions and the government, but other businesses could improve their security by encrypting all personal data.

Protecting children against internet predators is best done through educating the parents on the use and control of the internet. In our society today, children are left to there own devices more than they were a generation ago. Parents must monitor their children’s use of the internet. Blocking software is available that will prevent children from accessing dangerous areas. Hackers will always be a part of the internet scene. Virus software, like Norton, helps. Again, education is the key. Internet users should only download from trusted sources. Better education on email use is also needed. If no one opened email they did not recognize, computer viruses, phishing, and other scams would be severely reduced.

The scholastic integrity has suffered because of the amount of downloadable information and misinformation that is available. Plagiarism has been an issue since universities opened. Now, however, it is everywhere. Students can easily download someone else’s work and claim it as their own. Researches can claim ownership of other people’s research. The detection and prevention of plagiarism is a major issue for higher education.

Like internet crime, there is no real absolute solution for plagiarism. Universities have instigated severe penalties, including expulsion, for those who are caught. This type of deterrence will have some effect. Web sites such as www.turnitin.com offer plagiarism detection. If students know that their papers will be checked, they are going to be less likely to commit the act. However, nothing is going to prevent some plagiarism. Education, again, would be beneficial to those who commit unintentional plagiarism, but for those who knowingly do it when they know the risks, education is not going to have an effect.

Bulk emailing, or spam, is a very large issue. Corporate America spends lots of money both generating and preventing spam emails. These are a problem because they can tie up server resources, Ethernet gateways, and personal computers. Spam can also harbor viruses that can damage computer systems. Pop-up ads are not only intrusive, they can be damaging. Ads from competitors can appear, without the original business owner’s knowledge, on commercial websites. An example would be a Chevy ad popping up while a person was browsing a ford web site. These ads may be displayed hours later. Along with this, these companies will store files on the user’s hard drive, sometimes without their knowledge, to track what web sites they browse.

Tighter regulation on corporate behavior is needed. Unfortunately, the individual states have little they can due since the vast majority of internet traffic crosses state boundaries. Therefore, this type of regulation must come from the Federal Government. Regulations requiring business to notify the user before they store a file on their computer, regulating trespassing pop-up ads, and regulating unwanted Spam are either needed or the enforcement must be better.

The issue of pornography is an old one. With the internet, porn is easily accessible. With the free speech guarantees that we enjoy, adult pornography is hard to regulate. Even public libraries have had to face the free speech vs. good for society issue. Like other internet issues, there are no sure answers. Software and hardware that regulates what sites are visited is one way to attempt to keep adult sites in the hands of adults only. But just like “R” rated movies, kids will find a way to “sneak in”.

The internet has changed our society and has shrunk the world. It happened faster than our society was able to cope. Now we stand in awe looking into a world that we indeed created that has to a real extent got out of hand. The only way to control this monster is through education, enforcement of laws, and stiffer penalties for those who violate these laws.

References
Arnold, Tom. (2000). Internet Identity Theft. Software & Industry Association

Marsh, David (2007). History of the Internet. Retrieved June 2, 2007 from NetValley
Web site: http://www.netvalley.com/archives/mirrors/davemarsh-timeline-1.htm

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