Information Today
Volume 18, Issue 11 — December 2001
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• Internet Waves •
Security Technology and Other Issues
Here's a review of homeland cyber-security and home-office strategies
by Shirley Duglin Kennedy

Given the astounding series of eventsthat has occurred since the last time my column appeared in this space, most of us have a lot of things on our minds these days. Security, of course, has to rank right up there near the top of the list. While I'm no foreign policy expert and I'm certainly not qualified to tell you how to protect yourself from anthrax or other biochemical horrors, the demands of my job require that I keep up with security technologies and related issues. And in the last couple of months, I've acquired a working knowledge of several topics that, prior to September 11, had only been dancing on the fringes of my consciousness.

Biometric Technology
Biometrics ( has made the leap from a futuristic technology viewed with fear and loathing by many to something routinely parsed and discussed in the mainstream media. Supplanting passwords and ID cards with, well, body parts appears to be an idea whose time is rapidly approaching.

The biometric technology we're hearing about most often is facial recognition ( or HowStuffWorks has a good basic explanation of "how computers are turning your face into computer code so it can be compared to thousands, if not millions, of other faces" ( The November issue of Technology Review includes an article accompanied by a Flash animation that demonstrates how facial recognition works (

The two major players in this space are Viisage Technology ( and Visionics Corp. ( Both company Web sites offer a mother lode of information in the form of white papers, case studies, and links to related information. Meanwhile, an anti-surveillance camera group known as the New York Surveillance Camera Players ( offers an interesting opinion piece ( about these two companies. Phil Agre, an associate professor at UCLA's Information Science Department who tracks technology vs. privacy issues, has written a thoughtful essay titled "Your Face Is Not a Bar Code: Arguments Against Automatic Face Recognition in Public Places" (

Although it's the one we've all been reading about, facial recognition isn't the only biometric technology currently available. Among the others are the following:

Steganography ( popped up on the radar screen when stories began to surface about terrorists transmitting sensitive information (images mainly, but it's also possible to use sound files) by hiding it within multimedia files ( Essentially, special software is used to replace the "least significant bits" in a file—those that can be changed without altering the file in a detectable way—with the information the user wishes to disguise for transmittal.

Interestingly, steganography is now coming into its own as a way to embed digital watermarks in multimedia content so that owners can police their intellectual property (

Computer Forensics
Computer forensics ( is an expanding niche in law enforcement, as more and more critical evidence is available only in electronic format. Mishandling this sort of information can render it unacceptable as evidence in a courtroom ( or maybe even cause it to disappear forever. This is a highly specialized field that requires trained personnel and often special hardware and software ( Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section released a manual called Searching and Seizing Computers and Obtaining Electronic Evidencein Criminal Investigations ( "to provide Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors with systematic guidance that can help them understand the legal issues that arise when they seek electronic evidence in criminal investigations."

Cyberterrorism ( has emerged as a serious threat to both public and private infrastructures as our dependence on electronic networking has ballooned. It can take a variety of forms—for example, hacking into a bank database and manipulating fund transfers, spreading disinformation with the intention of creating panic, "data diddling" (changing information in, say, medical or financial databases), or launching denial of service (DoS) attacks ( so that the target computer system is rendered unusable or inaccessible.

The federal government's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office ( coordinated the January 2000 release of the National Plan for Information Systems Protection version 1.0 (, which lays out "a complex interagency process for approaching critical infrastructure and cyber-related issues in the Federal Government." These include federal government computer issues (; computer crime and inellectual property issues (; threat assessment, warning, investigation, and response (; and Internet security issues (

The Overseas Advisory Council ( was established in 1985 by the U.S. Department of State "to foster the exchange of security-related information between the U.S. government and American private-sector operating abroad." One important thing it does is "track and report on the developments, issues, and events of cybercrime and cyberterrorism" (

To learn more about cyberterrorism, check out the following URLs: 

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, information provided by a variety of government agencies has been removed from the Net because of security concerns. OMB Watch (—which tracks and reports on a wide range of government activity, including the collection and dissemination of government information to the public—is documenting where, when, and why certain types of information have gone away ( The Electronic Freedom Foundation is also tracking Web sites that have been shut down bythe U.S. and other governments, ISPs, and individual owners (

Working from Home
I recently celebrated my first anniversary as Web guide manager for Business 2.0 (originally eCompany Now;, which means I've just completed a year as a full-time telecommuter. Those of you who have been here, done this after many years of traditional outside-the-home employment will agree that it takes a while to get used to the situation. Here are some words of wisdom for anyone contemplating the telecommuting lifestyle.

Buy a comfortable chair! That I put this at the top of my list should give you some idea of the importance it holds for me. Office chairs are definitely one of those "you get what you pay for" purchases. Please don't cheap out, particularly if you deviate from the "average" physical build, and if you're going to be spending hours and hours a day in front of a computer. I'm 5' 2" on a good day, and have suffered for years with whatever lousy office chair I got stuck with. I refused to extend that suffering to my home office, and so I broke down and bought a Herman Miller Aeron Chair (,1469,c201-pss1-p8,00.html).

If, like so many of us, you've spent countless hours over the last few months watching CNN, you may have noticed Aerons in the studio. They come in several colors and three different sizes. Virtually every part of the chair is adjustable (including the arms, to provide support as you type, type, type all day long), and the seat and back are made from a springy, ventilated material that adjusts itself to your body as you sit. They retail for about $699, but you can find used ones (especially since the dot-com debacle); there are always plenty up for auction on eBay. Business 2.0 published a feature on equipping a home office in the November issue (,1640,17424,FF.html). You can see recommended options for both the budget-minded and those with deep pockets.

Telecommuting can be very lonely. Somepeople handle this better than others. I found that it's important to make a deliberate effort to stay in touch with friends, former co-workers, etc., and get out of the house for a sociable lunch on a regular basis. You may find that if you're coming off a long stretch of solitary time, you'll turn into a veritable motormouth on those occasions when you have human companionship.

Speaking of food ... conventional wisdom holds that most people who start working from home will gain weight, due to the proximity of the kitchen. Blessedly, this didn't happen to me; my previous work environment was full of great cooks and all manner of chocoholics who kept the building stocked with an unending supply of temptations. I'm an indifferent cook and my sons don't really enjoy sweets, so there's very little junk food in my house.

Speaking of gaining weight ... even if you don't, you'll end up dressing in loose, comfortable clothes anyhow. I'm not so sure I could ever handle another job that required tailored clothes with natural waistlines, hose, and heels. I wear gym clothes most of the time since that's almost always where I'm going when I leave the house during the day.

Speaking of leaving the house ... it's a blessing if your job permits a flexible schedule. It's wonderful to be able to run errands—bank, food store, hairdresser, etc.—on weekdays, when everything is much less crowded.

Speaking of flexible schedules ... when your office is at home, you never really leave your job—especially if you're working at something you really like to do. I'll remember an e-mail I needed to answer or something I wanted to fix in the database, or I'll suddenly come up with a solution to a problem that's been dogging me ... and I sit down at the computer to just take care of that one thing ... and get up several hours later, wondering how it got so late.

If you're on the computer all day, make sure you have a decent monitor. My huge, 21-inch monster is several years old now but since it's still going strong, I really can't justify replacing it with one of those sharp, new flat-panel jobs. However, one of my virtual teammates recently bought one and is raving about the clarity and sharpness, and also about how little space it consumes—an issue if your home office is on the small side.

Make sure you get up every hour or so to move around, and try to do something that doesn't require intense use of your eyes. When you work in a conventional office setting, you usually don't need to think about this, as there are natural interruptions that cause you to get away from the computer regularly during the day. You can find some good stretching and relaxation exercises at Desktop Yoga (

New Book

New from O'Reilly & Associates is the second edition of Web Design in a Nutshell, by Jennifer Niederst ( If your job involves the creation of Web pages, you need this book within an arm's reach. Among the richcontent, you'll find information about browser support and idiosyncrasies; standards; cascading style sheets; using graphics and multimedia; and new-ish authoring languages like XHTML, WML, and SML. There's also a complete reference guide to HTML 4.01 tags.

Shirl Kennedy, a librarian by training, is Web guide manager for Business 2.0, Time, Inc.'s "next-generation business magazine" ( Her e-mail address is

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