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.comment: A Different View of Security - page 2

Waking Up to a Changed World

  • September 19, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Remember a decade ago, when we were treated to all sorts of stories about how we'd all be telecommuting within a year or two? Have you noticed how that mostly didn't come to pass? Well, time has come for serious reconsideration of just that. Yes, there are businesses for which this is impossible and yes, I mentioned above how it is possible to bring down the Internet, which could result in loss of productivity during cyber attacks that are increasingly frequent. But in many, many cases telecommuting would be exactly the right thing, for several reasons.

First, it eliminates the possibility that an entire enterprise could be wiped out -- I'm talking people, not just facilities. Many enterprises are utterly vulnerable today. Last Tuesday, even very big companies lost people essential to their functioning, and those companies will very likely not reopen. Other companies lost everyone.

Second, it makes multiple backups to remote sites somewhat simpler.

Third, if the effects of last Tuesday unfold as it seems they will (and as I very much hope they do), there is considerable likelihood that anything that reduces gasoline consumption will be an important consideration.

(My apologies if you're the computer technician in your company, because a company serious about this would want to own and maintain the computers for security and other reasons, leading to the rise of the door-to-door system administrator. "Ding dong -- IT calling.")

There are other things we need to consider, and they have no obvious answers. There has been talk of our liberties being stripped away as a result of last Tuesday's events. Those who believe that government at every level was just waiting for an excuse to pounce probably can't be reasoned with here, but a calmer view of history illustrates precedents and the likelihood that many of our fears are unfounded. In times of crisis there have frequently been what could be called infringements of our civil liberties. These have ranged from the blocking off of areas to traffic to the security and rationing impositions of World War II to the truly Draconian measures imposed by Woodrow Wilson during World War I, to the firearms prohibitions of 1933 and since. We're already seeing airport security measures that may or may not do much good -- the terrorists' car that was found at Boston's Logan Airport contained a ramp pass, meaning that someone who had been in that car had supra-gate access to airliners. There will be more of this. As readers of this column know, I don't much trust the government, and I take a very dim view of some of the diminution of our Constitutionally protected liberties that has already taken place. But, frankly, in my estimation now is not the time to get too noisy over the idea that Internet privacy, a phantom to begin with, is somehow sacred and inviolate. (There was a lot of community outrage a few weeks ago when the FBI raided a radical Islamic website in Texas. For some reason, you don't hear it brought up so much anymore.) No matter where you come down on it, I suspect you'll agree with me that appending trigger words to the end of email messages ought to get those who do it a spanking and removal of their computer privileges for awhile. In any case, we have no Constitutional right to unfettered Internet use, and anybody who thinks that this is the time to press the case before the Supreme Court is just plain nuts.

The Unknown

We can none of us know, have, really, the slightest idea, of what's to come. Strangely, we have a far better idea now, though, than we had nine days ago. The attacks in New York and Washington, and the attack that was apparently aborted in the skies over Pennsylvania by people who we can only hope we would emulate in such a situation, were in many respects the biggest and most terrible event ever to occur on these shores; certainly the biggest in many decades. Yet it was not unexpected in some respects -- at CBS 15 years ago we discussed the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. John McPhee discussed it 12 years earlier than that. We never dreamt of the manner of the attack, though, and certainly didn't think we'd see it on live television. I suspect that the shock of it, the sheer starkness of it all, will not wear off anytime soon. I know people, good, strong people, who even now burst into tears at the sound of the National Anthem. A friend, a television reporter who has seen some pretty horrible stuff, completely lost it upon making eye contact with a New York City fireman, who, too, soon had tears on his cheeks. We are still stunned, and that makes it more difficult to do what must be done.

But we do all have work to do. We need to secure our systems. We need to plan for the further unhappy events that are certain to come. We need to be especially vigilant, and especially as to the machines we oversee. We must be serious and purposeful in doing our jobs. Because even if we are not directly involved in protecting civilization, we are directly involved in making sure there is a civilization to protect.

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