Opera CEO defends Unite against security concerns

It is more difficult to hack into Web servers on 'millions of computers' than into a centralized server, he says

Opera Software's CEO defended the Unite feature of the forthcoming Opera 10 browser against charges that it will increase the risk that hackers can break into people's PCs.

In an interview in New York recently, Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said that the decentralized nature of Unite, a feature that turns each person's PC into a Web server by putting that capability in the browser, makes it more difficult for hackers to break into computer systems, not easier.

"When you're hacking a single system, if you have everything that belongs to everyone in one location, you only need to break in once," he said. "If you have it in different computers it's a little more complicated. If you get into one Web server and everyone's data is in there, that's easier than getting into a million computers."

Moreover, Tetzchner said some of the fear that hackers will have a field day with Unite has to do with the fact that it's a new and yet unproven technology about which security risks are an unknown, rather than a real danger with the technology.

"I think a lot of people are concerned because this is a new piece of technology," Tetzchner said. "I don't see this as making this more of a target that you have been before."

Opera Unite, introduced last month, is new software planned for Opera 10 that includes a Web server in the browser that connects it to an Opera proxy server, which then allows the browser to serve content to the rest of the Internet. It is currently available in alpha release.

The idea is to simplify things for people who want to host their own Web pages and share files with others via the Internet -- with Opera's architecture, they don't have to configure firewalls or worry about their Internet service providers blocking Web server traffic.

However, security researchers have expressed concern that putting a Web server on every PC will make it easier for hackers to break into PCs. Web servers are the primary way hackers to break into computer systems and spread malicious code via the Internet.

While security experts may beg to differ about Tetzchner's assessment of the new service, Opera's CEO said that the company is spending a "fair amount of time" ensuring the new feature will be secure as possible.

However, he stopped short of saying how Opera might specifically address any threats that may crop up due to the new feature other than to stay on top of security risks to the Opera browser as vigilantly as the company does today.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service
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