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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > May 2003
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Vol. 23 No. 5 — May 2003
Security Blanket
by Kathy Dempsey

Many of us remember having a security blanket when we were little. It may not have even been a blanket per se; it might have been a certain toy or object that made us feel safe. As we grew older, "security" came to mean different things, which inevitably became more complicated and more expensive along the way. We might have progressed from a security blanket to, say, a favorite backpack to a lucky pair of shoes to a particular piece of jewelry to a home safety system to a sizable nest egg. I think, too, that as the world has changed over the last 50 years or so, that feeling of security has become harder to achieve at any age. For instance, is there anyone left who doesn't lock their doors at night? Notice all the parents waiting at bus stops with their kids, even in good neighborhoods? The feeling of really being secure is becoming more and more elusive.

In technology, security is a double-edged sword. For instance, now you can have a security system in your car, but it can be set off at the slightest provocation, so the public pays little attention to car alarms these days. Given that, do they really make you any safer? Likewise, you can have an electronic home security system installed, but it can be circumvented by thieves with the right information, access, and tools. So it is with computer networks. You have some firewall software and a password policy, so you think your data is protected, right? Probably not.

As shown in the examples above, a few bytes of fancy electronics are not necessarily all you need to be fully protected. You also need an understanding of the possible attackers and their abilities, some high-level software, and a huge dose of common sense, coupled with patience and savvy. Of course this issue provides it all. To learn more or to refresh your memory on basic "attackers" and "protectors," check our handy chart on pages 24—25. To find a way to keep your operating system software patched against the latest threats, learn the trick on pages 22—23. To draw the line between healthy security precautions and overdosing on panic, read our clearly written cover story, which starts on page 12. And if you think you've covered all the bases, prepare to be scared as you discover the secrets of "spyware" on page 16. Our columnists did an extra-good job covering this topic too; you can learn from their interesting experiences and viewpoints.

Computer network horror stories might make for juicy cocktail-party conversations, but you don't want to actually live through them if you can help it. If you keep your knowledge up-to-date and do everything you can to secure the fort, then you and your network users can get a lot closer to that safe feeling of the security blanket once again.

Correction: I'd like to correct a sentence I printed in the March issue in Joe Williams' feature, "Taming the Wireless Frontier: PDAs, Tablets, and Laptops at Home on the Range." On page 62, the second sentenceunder the "Free-Range Computing: Three Wireless Projects" subheading should have read: "Here are the three projects underway at TAMU." I apologize for the original misstatement.

Kathleen L. Dempsey is the Editor of Computers in Libraries. Her email address is:

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