As improvements in telecommunications have changed the way America does business, it has become increasingly important to protect a company’s investments in the technology used to communicate.
Much of what needs to be done is simple but important. Surge protectors are inexpensive, and can prevent not only major damage to equipment but losses associated with downtime if equipment is damaged.
Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the office should also be standard equipment to protect not only equipment, but people. And when considering insurance, telecommunications equipment should be covered along with other major investments.
Backing up data is also critical, but often overlooked. Experts say that it isn’t a matter of “if” you will ever lose data, but “when” it will be lost. And it doesn’t always help if the backup data is stored in the same office. A tornado, fire, flood or other natural disaster, or even theft, could result is a significant loss to a business unless data is stored safety offsite. Backing up data alone isn’t enough; companies also need to make sure the backups are periodically carried off to a secure site.
Mike Rackley, head of information technology services for Mississippi State University, said it is important to have a disaster recovery plan in place.
“You don’t get into this business without physical measures in place to protect equipment, and measures to restore data in case of mechanical failure,” Rackley said. “Companies that depend on their information technology, and Mississippi State is no exception to that, have in place a disaster recovery plan. What would your company do if 90% of your sales are on the Web, and that connection is broken for a day or a week? Or if the computer server breaks down for a week?”
The disaster recovery plan can include an array of options depending on how big the business is and how important information technology is to the business. The most expensive option is a hot site backup. If there is a significant failure at the primary site that includes Web pages and company financial data, a hot site backup at a geographically distant location can be brought up into operation in short period of time to minimize lost time.
A lower cost option is making sure there are adequate spare parts on hand to replace certain failures. Or businesses might want to consider a service contract with vendors where there is a quick response time guaranteed for repairs.
“Those kinds of maintenance contracts are very important,” Rackley said.
The issue of computer hacking is also a critical one, especially in light of the recent devastating ILOVEYOU virus that caused estimated billions of dollars world wide primarily in productivity losses.
“The good news is that it is now easy to communicate world wide,” Rackley said. “The bad news it is really easy to communicate world wide. The issue of computer viruses is something we are going to be dealing with for years to come.”
Some critics have said that there should have been better preparations for dealing with a virus such as ILOVEYOU. Rackley, who has been involved in information technology since the beginning of the Internet, said it easy to see how we have gotten where we are today. He said concerns for security were a non-issue for many years. So software and hardware for the Internet were constructed without regard to the security concerns.
In the beginning the Internet was a very closed community including a handful of university and federal research facilities. The potential uses for commercial activity and entertainment weren’t recognized.
“Five years ago the World Wide Web came along, and that changed everything,” Rackley said. “The popularity of the Internet just went through the roof. The rapid explosion in popularity caught everyone offguard. Now there are millions of users, and the Internet has attracted an element that is less than desirable. This is a very thorny issue, and one of great concern to people like me who are professionals in the business. There has to be a lot of work done to make this a secure, safe environment. Right now these anti-virus programs you can buy are Band-aids on a huge problem.”
Some experts have recommended against sending or opening attachments since most of the most common and damaging viruses are imbedded in the attachment. But attachments are one of the really great things about e-mail, allowing large files to be sent quickly. Rackley said if attachments aren’t used, the whole value of e-mail diminishes.
“That, to me, is not the solution,” Rackley said. “The solution long term is to get at heart of the technology and make it secure. Again, knowing how this technology has evolved over the years, it is easy to see how we got where we are. Security hasn’t been a concern until very recently.”
Rackley’s staff spent the better part of two days scrambling to do damage control after the ILOVEYOU virus. Unfortunately, there was irreparable damage as some files were wiped out.
“It is scary knowing how this works, to understand this could have been much worse,” Rackley said. “We haven’t had a virus yet where the perpetrator goes for the jugular. They make it bad, but not nearly as bad as it could be. So I keep holding my breath. Someday, someone will say, ‘Let’s quit playing around. Let’s do something really bad’.”
Mississippi State was one of the leading initial advocates of Internet technology, and had the first Internet site in the state 14 years ago. Rackley said he still believes the Internet has great value, but he finds security problems and other issues such as pornography sites disturbing.
“It makes one wonder if it is going to collapse under its own weight,” he said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.
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