Brace Yourself for the Beijing Olympics

August 8, 2008, the day the Olympics will kick off, is auspicious to the Chinese — their word for eight is faat, which sounds like their word for wealth, and that repeated four times is a mighty powerful mantra.

But it could spell woe for corporations, as they may have to scramble to ensure their Internet bandwidth is not sucked up by staff accessing the Web to watch the online video coverage of the Games.

The threat is certainly real and has a precedent, as recently as a few months ago. “One of our customers told us that their system was inundated and their Internat gateway came to a halt during March Madness with the basketball playoffs last year,” Steve Schick, director of corporate communications at Blue Coat, told InternetNews.com.

NBCOlympics.com has teamed up with Limelight (NASDAQ: LLNW), a content delivery provider, to ensure the public Internet’s overall bandwidth is not impacted too severely.

Matters could be made worse because NBCOlympics.com will provide e-mail alerts to viewers. E-mails also open enterprises to spammers and phishers, while streaming videos and Websites from which they can be downloaded could be used by cybercriminals to launch attacks on a corporation’s systems.

Bandwidth will get hammered if enough people in an office, or in buildings in a given area, log on to the Internet to watch the games. Experts recommend that businesses implement Web access policies and Internet filtering to prevent chaos.

“The congestion would happen in the last mile,” Randy Fuller, vice president of business development at Camiant, which produces management software for policy control of both cable and wireless broadcasts, told InternetNews.com. “If enough people in a building, or in a certain area, logged on around the same time, there definitely could be some significant effect.”

Although NBCOlympics.com will make 3,600 hours of video available online, this won’t impact the public Internet, according to Paul Alfieri, senior director of corporate communications at Limelight. Limelight is partnering with NBC.com to deliver the videos.

“We have thousands of servers at the edge of the last mile networks, and deliver content to those servers, which stream them directly to the last mile,” Alfieri said. Limelight operates its own global fiber optic network, and “in 85 to 90 percent of the cases,” nothing distributed through that touches the public Internet, Alfieri added.

Akamai is delivering live and on-demand video for the Olympics here in the U.S., according to Jennifer Donovan, a spokesperson for Akamai, another content delivery provider. “Akamai is working with the European Broadcast Union to deliver Olympic video to the sites they support,” she added.

Meanwhile, NewsMarket, which lets companies like Nike and Volkswagen deliver video to deliver video to media outlets worldwide, is using Akamai’s Web Application Accelerator to let journalists in China more quickly preview and download Olympics-related raw news video clips for use. NewsMarket is also using Akamai’s Media Delivery solution for Adobe Flash streaming and Electronic Software Delivery for faster video download services for journalists, Donovan said.

Page 2: Security concerns as well

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The real impact may be felt by corporations as their staff access videos on the Web. “Most businesses have some online applications employees use as a critical part of the workday, and that’s where they could be materially affected,” Eric Lundbohm, vice president of marketing at Internet security and insider threat management provider 8e6 Technologies told InternetNews.com.

“For us, Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) is mission-critical, and if a large number of people in the company are doing streaming videos through our gateway and eating up our bandwidth, response time for Salesforce.com will be slower,” Lundbohm added. “On top of that, there’s the loss of productivity when people watch these videos.”

Lundbohm suggests that businesses create acceptable use policies as soon as possible. “You could shut access off completely, but that would backfire,” he said. He suggests letting employees watch the games but warning them that they will be monitored and their managers will be notified if they spend more than a fixed amount of time daily on this.

What’s worse, NBCOlympics.com has signed a deal with online marketing specialists Lyris to distribute alerts and real time updates by e-mail to people who sign up for this service. “They’ll be sending out literally millions of e-mails on this system over two weeks,” Blaine Mathieu, Lyris’s chief marketing officer, told InternetNews.com.

Not only will that open up an enterprise’s IT system to spam and fake e-mails, it could also flood the corporate wide-area network (WAN) .

Other cybercriminal attacks will take the form of faking Web sites that will have the look and feel of NBCOlympics.com Web sites to lure victims in and download backdoors, Trojan horses, sniffers and other malware onto their computers, warned Ryan C. Barnett, director of Web application security at Breach Security. He suggests enterprises update their browsers and patches.

And then there’s security concerns

There is also a security risk, as malware writers try to capitalize on the public’s interest in the Games. “Bad guys with spamming and phishing e-mails are always monitoring anything that will trigger a traffic spike,” Barnett told InternetNews.com. “The Olympics will be a perfect lure for them.”

Enterprises also have to watch out for search engine optimization (SEO) attacks. “If you go to your favorite site, say Google, and type in a request like Olympic streaming video, you may get what looks like a legitimate Olympic site but isn’t,” Derek Manky, a security researcher at unified threat management systems vendor Fortinet told InternetNews.com.

Cybercriminals could use such a site to inject malicious code into their victims’ systems. The solution to this is layered protection. “You’ll need a policy to block streaming, perhaps, and antivirus layered on top of it to filter out the malware,” Manky said.

Overall, enterprises should take three steps to safeguard themselves from the potential madness of the games. “First, communicate what you mean by acceptable use in business,” Chris Simmons, director of product strategy at Fortinet, told InternetNews.com.

“Then, install some sort of filtering safeguards like Web filters to enforce that policy,” Simmons said. “Finally, layer on security measures for better protection.”

One other thing a business should do in advance is talk to its Internet Service Provider (ISP). “Verify with your ISP how much bandwidth is allocated for your site, and make sure that the contract says you shouldn’t have to pay as much if the levels go below that,” Breach Security’s Barnett said.

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