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Stepping up security Featured

7:00am EDT December 31, 2001
As our nation is fighting terrorist attacks, we should also be asking ourselves if our computers systems are safe from potential attacks. This is a daunting, yet serious thing most business owners face -- the fear that someone will access their passwords, financial information and more.

Even before Sept. 11, a client, whose site we hosted but did not create contacted us when it realized its Web site had been hacked into and was no longer functional. Unbeknownst to the company, its site had no protection from outside attacks.

Apparently, the student who developed the site had not yet taken the class on installing secure systems. Although we were able to resecure the site and had it back up quickly, a significant amount of business productivity was lost.

Several aspects of security must be considered when determining how to preserve system integrity effectively.

* Transaction security is vital for Internet business data -- passwords, personal data and financial information.

* Network security on internal networks halts improper access from within and without. This ensures there are no holes to the intranet from the Internet and is paramount for attacking viruses, e-mail spamming, denial of service attacks and network abuse.

* Hacker security provides protection from malicious access by intruders from the outside or from within.

Every computer in the world, connected to phone or cable circuits for retrieving or exchanging information, is part of the global computer network -- the Internet. Security on the Internet must guard against sabotage and provide freedom from fear of intrusion.

Is this an impossible task? The answer is not simple. It is made even more difficult by the fact that most breaches in security come from inside an organization.

One of our clients became aware that 60 percent to 70 percent of his business's computer time was spent on the Internet. By installing monitoring software, he learned all abuse was attributable to just two employees, who were downloading so much information it slowed the entire company's connection.

Tools like monitoring software are available to businesses to help make their Internet usage secure. Firewalls and virus scanners are also critical tools.

Firewalls prohibit entry by checking all requests to enter networks or computers. Filtering criteria are established by the user and are critical to the firewall's effectiveness.

A flexible firewall with established criteria will monitor incoming and outgoing information, the source and destination of that information and sometimes the actual content moving through the network. An effective firewall requires attention to management and updating. A few good sites for exploring firewalls are Sonic Wall, www.sonicwall.com; Norton Personal Firewall 2000, www.symantec.com and Checkpoint, www.checkpoint.com

Every network/computer must also have a virus scanner. Virus software must be configured to scan data before it gets into the system to be the most effective. Some of the best virus scanners can be found at Norton Anti-Virus, www.sarc.com and McAfee Anti-Virus, http://vil.mcafee.com/default.asp.

In 2000, $898 million was spent on Internet security. By 2005, $22 billion will be invested. Consult with an Internet professional to evaluate specific requirements and research the tools available to meet those requirements.

The system in place may well determine the seamless flow of business traffic, whether it is a large intranet or just one computer. Cliff Gallatin is president of ASCInet, an end-to-end technology solutions provider. He can be reached at 798-5321 or gallatin@ascinet.com.