Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Computer safety has always been a concern; it had increased rapidly in the 80s

A lot has been written recently about home computer safety, with tips like (1) keeping the family computer in a non-private location if there are kids in the house (even though more advanced high school students need the “privacy” for legitimate homework assignments) (2) strong passwords (3) bewaring of phishing (4) anti-virus software and firewall maintenance.

Actually, some of these worries long existed in the mainframe world. We’ve heard a lot about physical security of disks and lists of personal information from corporate databases, government agencies, and credit bureaus. True, it used to be that there was little security of these lists, and when employees started telecommuting (a good thing) they often took home laptops that could hold data (before that they had taken home dumb CRT terminals, which may have been “safer” in retrospect, for nightcall).

Also, mainframe computer security has been an evolving capability, which grew rapidly in the middle and late 1980s, especially with topics like Top Secret and RACF. It wasn’t until well into the 80s that most shops could keep programmers from having routine update access to production files. In the 90s, much more attention was paid to source-load module integrity with a variety of products like CA-Librarian or Endeavor, and Changeman. There have always been “holes” where employees could, inadvertently or deliberately, do a lot of damage to a financial institution’s database and customers, but by around 1990 or so companies had gotten very serious about closing these holes. One other risk was the rapidity with which corporate data center conversions were done after corporate mergers, as well as Y2K. Still, statistically, these efforts cause few problems,

Nevertheless, the problems we see today with home computer safety are a reflection that problems that have always existed ever since computers, even for companies and governments, became part of modern life.

Picture: Coal-fired Pepco/Dominion power plant at Mt. Storm, W Va., in stripmine country.

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