INTERNAUT

Security, elections and taxes are the big Net topics this year

Shawn P. McCarthy

Do government agencies rely too much on intrusion detection while neglecting to make computer systems more secure?

The General Accounting Office thinks so. In a recent report, GAO says President Clinton's recently announced Critical Infrastructure Protection Plan favors detection over prevention'particularly the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, which is big part of the $2 billion battle plan.

In a report viewable with Adobe Acrobat Reader at www.gao.gov/new.items/ai00072t.pdf, GAO says agencies should not rely on intrusion detection as a burglar alarm.

The point is valid, but keep in mind that the White House plan starts with an initiative to recruit information technology workers and teach them about all aspects of security, including systems security. Detection is a good starting point, but setting security standards to force agencies to close up system holes is even more important. Security standards should definitely be part of CIPP.

Meanwhile, out on the Internet frontier, state and local governments that hope to tax Internet services should pay close attention to a bill by Reps. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Christopher Cox (R-Calif.). They propose making permanent the current three-year ban on new Internet taxes. Details appear at www.house.gov/chriscox/press/releases/2000/013100cw4.htm.

Cox and Wyden were authors of the 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act, which set the current ban. Also keep an eye out for an April report from the congressionally created Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce. It likely will recommend repeal of many existing Net taxes. Visit www.ecommercecommission.org/index.htm.

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The Federal Election Commission will scrutinize how presidential candidates use the Net this spring.

The commission late last year considered whether to regulate such campaign activity and heard a resounding no, so the hands-off approach continues. But the issue surely will resurface if Net misrepresentation or fund-raising scandals arise.

Public comments appear at www.fec.gov/internet.html. The commission's site also has a good collection of forms, legal resources and campaign finance rules at www.fec.gov/candidate-guide.html.

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As agencies panted across the year 2000 finish line, critics said too much had been spent on preparations for a nondisaster. Well, remember the swine flu scare back in the mid-1970s? Anticipating a terrible outbreak, the government paid for millions of free immunizations, and people rushed to get their shots.

The outbreak never came. Was that because the flu didn't exist or because thorough preparation corralled it? The same logic applies to year 2000 activities.

Systems analysis helped the government in ways not directly related to the date code problem.

Tweaking applications has improved efficiency in many cases and has amassed vital knowledge of legacy systems that had never been properly documented.

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If you haven't heard about the E-rate program yet, chances are you soon will. E-rate, also known as the Universal Service Fund, federally subsidizes discounted telecommunications, Internet access and internal connections for public schools.

In his recent State of the Union message, Clinton stressed the need to close the digital divide and help the nation's rural communities improve their Net access. The E-rate program is one way for local governments to reduce costs as they supply connectivity to residents.

The deadline for this year's E-rate applications was Jan. 26. Local jurisdictions that missed it should start thinking about applying next year. A good list of frequently asked questions about E-rate can be found at www.sl.universalservice.org/Reference/faq.asp. Information about the Federal Communications Commission's education initiatives appears online at www.fcc.gov/learnnet.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider.

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