First read this. Don’t worry, it’s short. Then I’ll tell you how long ago I wrote/published this strangely prescient piece, what with all the big online data breaches and security threats of recent years. Not to mention that it foretells the rise of Google, “There has never been a better time for a company to come along and challenge Microsoft’s Web browser and e-mail dominance.” Enjoy:

Freedom is a powerful thing. People seem to have a common reaction to newfound freedom. Like wading into the ocean, the first footsteps of freedom are delightful; only later do we learn that nothing so powerful comes without risk and responsibility.

We have never had more freedom than we do in the Internet age. Powerful information, productivity, education and entertainment capability is at our fingertips. We naively had our fun for a while, but now we see the risks: identity theft, security breaches, phishing schemes, viruses, spyware and spam.

The size of the risk appears to be proportional to the scope of the freedom, which in the case of the Internet is huge. Business and personal security, wealth and productivity can all be compromised. The potential threat to supply chains is frightening. This has given birth to the largest corporate hot potato of our time: Who owns Internet security?

As an industry, we are trained to think of technology in terms of a product or a channel. Security is somebody else’s problem. Well, whoever that somebody is, the company that can solve the data security problem for even a segment of the market will claim a significant competitive advantage.

The fact is that industry giants Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun have failed to secure our data networks. As big as these companies are, when it comes to data security, the playing field is level. But a problem this broad needs to be segmented. I see four distinct market opportunities for Internet security.

Individual users. Microsoft, Symantec and Computer Associates all have solutions, but they are just plugging security holes in the Internet Explorer and Outlook dikes. And we’re all sitting on the other side trying not to drown. There has never been a better time for a company to come along and challenge Microsoft’s Web browser and e-mail dominance.

Corporate networks. With Dell and Sun servers, Cisco routers, Microsoft and Oracle software and IBM service consultants, perhaps corporate networks are simply too fragmented. Nevertheless, nobody’s been able to come up with a secure data network, let alone one that’s scalable from enterprise to small businesses. Every week we hear about a new security breach.

Internet infrastructure. An unseen infrastructure of server, storage and router elements supports and routes all the Internet traffic throughout the world. This may very well be the easiest place to defend the Internet against spreading attacks from spam, worms and viruses.

Supply chains. Another component of enterprise security is the need for data security solutions that span multicompany supply chains, end to end. These could either be fully integrated solutions for specific vertical markets or more-generic solutions that securely link discrete, proprietary corporate networks.

A number of enabling technologies may play a role in data security, but the one with the broadest application appears to be biometrics. Once usernames and passwords become things of the past, perhaps identity theft will be as well.

Scalable solutions that integrate seamlessly with the existing IT infrastructure will, of course, be easiest to adopt. However, more-disruptive, holistic solutions may be adopted if the problem becomes painful enough. Nobody said this was going to be easy, but then, freedom never is.

A version of this originally appeared in various CMP Media print and online publications way back in 2005.