INTERNAUT

Remember: Hackers and viruses never go on vacation or holiday

Shawn P. McCarthy

Summer is usually a time to relax and regroup. But this summer may be different.

Looming legislation, plus some promising new technologies, indicate that government Web managers will have to watch the news carefully this summer and be ready to react to some swift changes.

The Federal Trade Commission recently asked Congress to prepare tough legislation to protect online privacy. At first glance, this doesn't look like it will have a major impact on government sites. After all, few collect information from visitors, right?

But many federal sites do collect visitor information for e-mail newsletters, press release lists or online sale of data. Though this is a far cry from planting a cookie and contracting with a vendor to track visitor travel across the Web, government sites still enter a privacy gray area unless they have a posted privacy policy that explains exactly how collected data will be used and shared. Site managers also need to track and comply with whatever legislation is eventually passed.

Digital vaccine

Details on the FTC recommendation are available at www.ftc.gov/opa/2000/05/privacy2k.htm.

To track online privacy issues, or for ideas on how privacy policies should be constructed and posted, visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center at www.epic.org.

It started with the ILOVEYOU virus last month and was followed by morphed, more potent versions such as Herbie and others over the next few weeks. If you're a system administrator planning a vacation this summer, your office needs to be able to react quickly to new virus threats while you're gone.

Here's a simple plan. First, if you run a Microsoft Exchange server, visit www.microsoft.com/misc/data/lovelettervirus.htm and download ISSCAN to remove the Love Bug strains of virus and restore the information on the server. There are also available patches and third-party software to protect against mail bombs. Next, send an enforceable edict out to all employees. They are not to open any mail attachment that ends in .vbs, .exe, .com or .js. Those fun little programs that get passed around that play music or show cute cartoons simply cannot be shared in your office anymore.

Next, disable Windows Scripting Host, a Microsoft Windows feature that runs Visual Basic programs. If you don't need it within your office, get rid of it. (But beware, you may have some programs that look for it, so do some research first.)

Finally, while you're away, should there be a problem, tell your workers to visit housecall.antivirus.com. The site will scan your computer remotely and look for the latest known viruses. Workers should also know how to install the latest update files for whatever virus scanning software your office uses.

Meanwhile, you may actually see a digital signature standard by the end of the summer. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers is urging Republicans and Democrats to cooperate on a digital signature bill. If it passes, it might override some state laws that require contracts in writing.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos-inc.com.

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