Three Australians recently were arrested on charges of breaking into computers in the United States and other countries. The arrests heightened concerns about the security of the growing network of computers used by scientists.

In November 1988, when a rogue program, or "worm," spread along America's network of research computers, 60,000 machines were connected. A year after the highly publicized incident, the number of interconnected scientific computers was 160,000 and heading upward.

How far, no one knows. But the convenience of abolishing distances between scientists working on common problems, allowing them to send messages and data when they want and deal with the electronic information when they want, creating and dismantling ad hoc groups of collaborators at will, has outrun the wildest predictions of agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, which sponsor the networks. Things have come a long way since the...

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