Just when it seemed like the Internet was becoming the world's shopping mall, research library, post office, branch bank, switchboard and magnet-covered refrigerator door all rolled into one, there are rumblings of trouble in Web Land. What could possibly be wrong with something so worldwide and wondrous?

Plenty, according to some scientists and thinkers around the globe. In his article, “The Internet is Broken,” author David Talbot interviews a number of people who are proposing that the Internet is so flawed that it eventually must be replaced with an entirely new architecture, one that addresses its every shortcoming, from security to inflexibility (Technology Review, December 2005/January 2006. www.tech nologyreview.com).

One such naysayer is David Clark of MIT, a chief architect of the current Internet protocol. “We might just be at the point where the utility of the Internet stalls — and perhaps turns downward…” he is quoted as saying. “We need to take all the technologies we already know and fit them together so that we get a different overall system. This is not about building a technology innovation that changes the world, but about architecture — pulling the pieces together in a different way to achieve high-level objectives.”

For Clark, these high-level objectives include dramatically improved security, that is the ability to authenticate with whom you are communicating; practicality; flexibility; plus resiliency and ease of management. Now is that too much to ask?

Think about your own fleet's level of dependence on the Internet. What do you use it for on a daily basis? Dispatch? Delivery verification? Routing and tracking? Billing? Basic communications? Does thinking about so many mission-critical functions all in one e-basket leave you feeling more than a little vulnerable and exposed? Well, perhaps it really should.

The March 2007 Internet Security Threat Report released by Symantec Corp., for example (www.syman tec.com/threatreport) provides a distressing glimpse into the world of spam and online fraud schemes that is enough to make even the most ardent Internet enthusiast consider digging out a typewriter and a box of carbon paper again. Among other things, Symantec observed “high levels of coordinated attacks combining spam, malicious code, and online fraud. During the second half of 2006, spam made up 59 percent of all monitored e-mail, marking a steady increase over the first six months of 2006.”

Symantec maintains a database that includes more than 20,000 “vulnerabilities” affecting more than 30,000 technologies from more than 4,000 vendors, so when they issue a warning like this, it is probably worth heeding: “As cyber criminals become increasingly malicious, they continue to evolve their attack methods to become more complex and sophisticated in order to prevent detection. End users, whether consumers or enterprises, need to ensure proper security measures to prevent an attacker from gaining access to their confidential information, causing financial loss, harming valuable customers, or damaging their own reputation.”

I don't know about you, but I have grown accustomed to cursing the Internet as an annoying but routine part of my workday. I blithely delete through requests for my bankcard number, not to mention all those lotteries in foreign countries that I've “won” without entering. Now I feel somewhat less cavalier about it all.

Is building a new Internet the answer? Or is it doomed to become the electronic equivalent of going through airport security? I can hear it now: “Please empty your email…”