|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.
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
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" (http://www.howstuffworks.com/facial-recognition4.htm).
The November issue of Technology Review includes an article accompanied
by a Flash animation that demonstrates how facial recognition works (http://www.techreview.com/magazine/nov01/visualize.asp).
The two major players in this space are Viisage Technology (http://www.viisage.com)
and Visionics Corp. (http://www.visionics.com).
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
offers an interesting opinion piece (http://www.notbored.org/viisage.html)
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" (http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/bar-code.html).
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:
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 (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/30/science/physical/30STEG.html).
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 (http://www.infosyssec.com/infosyssec/stendig1.htm).
Computer forensics (http://www.computerforensics.net/forensics.htm)
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 (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/digitaldiscovery/archive)
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 (http://www.cybercrime.gov/searchmanual.htm)
"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."
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 (http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1007-200-1546362.html?tag=bplst)
so that the target computer system is rendered unusable or inaccessible.
The federal government's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (http://www.ciao.gov)
coordinated the January 2000 release of the National Plan for Information
Systems Protection version 1.0 (http://www.ciao.gov/CIAO_Document_Library/national_plan%20_final.pdf),
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 (http://www.fedcirc.gov);
computer crime and inellectual property issues (http://www.cybercrime.gov);
threat assessment, warning, investigation, and response (http://www.nipc.gov);
and Internet security issues (http://www.cert.org).
The Overseas Advisory Council (http://www.ds-osac.org)
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" (http://www.ds-osac.org/edb/cyber/default.cfm).
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 (http://www.ombwatch.org)—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
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
2.0 (originally eCompany Now; http://www.business2.com),
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
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
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.
a feature on equipping a home office in the November issue (http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,17424,FF.html).
You can see recommended options for both the budget-minded and those with
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
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 (http://www.mydailyyoga.com/yogaindex.html).
New from O'Reilly & Associates is the second edition of Web Design
in a Nutshell, by Jennifer Niederst (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/wdnut2).
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
2.0, Time, Inc.'s "next-generation business magazine" (http://www.business2.com).
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.