Y2K won't unravel the Web, local experts say

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Posted December 13, 1999 By Nathan Hill Gazette staff writer

IOWA CITY -- People logging onto the Internet on Jan. 1 have little to fear about the much-hyped Y2K bug ruining their Web experience, say local experts.

Some pages may have the date wrong. Other sites may be temporarily off-line. But for the most part, it should be business as usual for the Web's larger sites, said Douglas Jones, associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa.

"There are a few elderly Web servers out there that may be non-compliant," he said. A server is a computer that stores and transfers the data you see on a Web site. "The major machines used for servers will sail through."

The Y2K bug is a potential problem for any number of The computer language used for the World Wide Web isn't time-dependent. computer programs that rely on two digits to define the year -- 99 for 1999, for example. When the calender rolls over to 00 on Jan. 1, these programs will assume the year is 1900.

Most of the problems are in administrative and financial programs, such as software that runs a company's billing statements. This could hamper some e-commerce sites after the new year because credit card compa- nies will turn down transactions if they're stamped as occurring in 1900.

However, the computer language used for the World Wide Web isn't time-dependent, said Chris Pruess, the UI's Webmaster. In other words, it doesn't matter whether a computer thinks it's 2000 or 1900; the computer will still interpret and display a Web site's data.

Additionally, the nature of the Internet -- with its millions of computers and billions of connections -- prevents the Y2K bug from interfering to any great degree.

When the Department of Defense first created ARPANet -- which evolved into the Internet -- in the late '60s, it was meant to be a decentralized network that would allow U.S. authorities to communicate in the event of a nuclear war.

Until then, communication networks were point-to-point. If one point experienced a disaster, the whole network came undone. ARPANet was designed to use a vast lattice of communication routes, so that if one section was destroyed, data could find another path.

Three decades later, this flexibility is at an all-time high. Though estimates vary, some say the Internet is a network of as many as a million other networks and is used by more than 27 million people.

What will enable Web surfers to enjoy browsing in the face of any Y2K glitches is the Internet's redundancy, the fact that a signal can reach you via millions of different routes, Jones said.

Lee Brintle, president of Leepfrog Technologies, an Iowa City Internet service provider, described the Internet as a "jungle of wires going hither, tither and yon." Because of that, any Y2K-related problems will be isolated, he said.

A bigger concern, said Pruess, is that all the Y2K fuss provides a great opportunity for hackers to attack systems or plant viruses.

Already, viruses are circulating on the Internet that will deliver their payloads on Christmas or New Year's, she said. Some are harmless annoyances. Others could wipe out your hard drive, she said.

"The Y2K commotion provides a fog (for hackers) to run around in because people are worrying about something else," Jones said. He added that hackers will be more tempted because of the "joy of deniability," meaning Y2K offers a somewhat plausible defense for their actions.

But most experts say the Internet will pull through the date change with flying colors. Some users may find smaller sites are down. Others could find that their browser is moving unusually slowly because so many people are online just to "see what happened," said Brintle.

"Everybody wants Y2K to be the biggest anti-crisis ever," he said. "It'll be very fun watching what happens."

-- y2k dave (xsdaa111@hotmail.com), December 13, 1999


Oh. I see. So, we can just ignore things like electricity and telecommunications, huh?

-- Liz (lizpavek@notmail.com), December 13, 1999.

Pieces of it WILL be down. Depends upon the ROUTERS NOT THE SERVERS.

-- (...@.......), December 13, 1999.

Don't know what to make of this. Reposted.......

Root Certificate Warning May Rattle Consumers (12/10/99, 6:07 p.m. ET) By Mo Krochmal, TechWeb The certificates of identification that are embedded in some Internet browsers are set to expire on Dec. 31, 1999, and may add another wrinkle to computer problems on New Year's day.

Internet users are already encountering the problem in surfing to certain websites with Netscape browsers. Vistors to sites will see a page come up that warns that a certificate has expired.


The problem is limited to browsers that don't contain new root certificates. These certificates, produced by AT&T, CyberTrust, and VeriSign, were first issued in 1995 with five-year expiration dates -- Dec. 31, 1999. New certificates are issued with 10-year expiration dates.


Certificate expiration does not affect the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser as it does not check for an expiration date, Howe said.


Netscape browsers prior to Communicator version 4.06 are affected. The problem can be avoided by using new browser software.

-- Kings Kid (beprepared@y2k.net), December 13, 1999

-- Tommy Rogers (Been there@Just a Thought.com), December 13, 1999.

"There are a few elderly Web servers out there that may be non- compliant,"


Most of the Web has come into existance since '92. Real elderly, yup, real elderly. Ancient actually.

-- Mitchell Barnes (spanda@inreach.com), December 14, 1999.

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