Horse Sense #73

 
In this issue:
  • Serious Computer Security Issue
  • How Safe Do You Feel?
  • A Silly and Fun Video About Disease Prevention
  • Digital Publishing
 
Serious Computer Security Issue
 
There is an extremely serious vulnerability in the Domain Name System or DNS, one of the key technologies that underlies the Internet (www.kb.cert.org/vuls/id/800113). DNS converts a human readable address like www.ih-online.com into a machine readable set of numbers like 67.62.124.98 that computers use to ďdialĒ up web sites and e mail servers. This vulnerability could enable an attacker to change that dialed number to anything they want. So, instead of going to your bank web site or e mailing your company, you go where they want you to instead. Major manufacturers like Microsoft, Apple, and the LINUX vendors have scrambled to close this security hole, but your server must apply the patches they are producing.
 
As a side note, Iron Horse has found that over 95% of the DNS servers it examines have some sort of error in their public DNS information or processing, and many of these errors have serious security and reliability implications. Almost all of the administrators weíve talked to about these issues have been unaware of the problem, though a few (incorrectly) assumed there were no issues. One major government crime fighting agency had an error in its DNS that we told it about. They ignored the problem and shortly thereafter got hit by a denial of service attack that took it off the Internet for some time.


 
How Safe Do You Feel?
 
OK, that was scary, but things like this can't happen to you, right? Wrong. Even people who have a lot of technical knowhow and large financial resources can be successfully attacked. With the following examples, you will see why it pays to be a little paranoid.
 
 


 
A Silly and Fun Video About Disease Prevention
 
This video shows you the right way to cough and sneeze to avoid infecting others. We won't hit flu season for another couple of months, but you can start practicing now! (grin) http://www.coughsafe.com/media.html Public health agencies are promoting this video in our schools to try to cut down on infection rates. The 1918 flu pandemic infected 20% of the world's population and killed 20-40 million people. http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/ A bird flu in today's environment with much easier travel would and no change in preventive measures would result in much higher rates of infections and many more deaths. A pandemic flu could overwhelm the medical establishment and ability of emergency personnel to respond. There would also be a severe negative impact on many businesses, especially those without a business continuity plan and the ability of employees to telecommute. Is your business ready for the flu? If not, call us!


 
Digital Publishing
 
At Iron Horse, we are constantly talking to different manufacturers about their products. Occasionally, we see a new product class, like e mail archiving or anti-spam appliances that break new ground. The newest example of a ground breaking (but by no means new) technology came with a visit from Rimage. Rimage is in the business of limited run, on demand CD/DVD/Blu-Ray publishing. In effect, they are optical media ďprinters.Ē In the printing world, you might print out a proposal, manual, or set of marketing materials for someone. Rimage allows you to do the same thing, only with optical disks. You can put a lot of information on optical disks and save a whole forest of trees, but there is a lot more to digital publishing than that.
 
First of all, Iíd like to dispel the idea that a technology like this is completely unnecessary because you can just download what you want on demand from the Internet. You can download information, but having information that is packaged and customized for you is difficult. That information may take forever to download. Due to security or licensing restrictions, it may not be downloadable (think music, installable software, books on CD). It isnít portable or ďinstantĒ delivery you canít just hand a download to someone and they canít instantly load it up on their machine. You canít print useful identifying information on it.
 
While digitally publishing optical media sounds boring, the applications of it are anything but. CDs were first produced by banks to provide accounting information for larger customers. Every disk was individual, customized, and often encrypted. It saved on paper and production time and delivery costs and allowed businesses to receive information in a more easily manipulated electronic format. Telephone companies also started offering bills on CDs so that hundreds of pages of bills could instead be delivered on a single CD.  The financial industry has long used CDs and DVDs to distributed datasets of current and historical financial information and prospectuses.
 
Since then, digital publishing has entered a number of different industries. These days, x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs are usually delivered on optical media. The disks are produced one at a time and patient identification is printed right on top of the disk. You can walk out of a digitally capable imaging facility with a disk that you can take to any doctor. It eliminates very expensive and delicate films that are often lost. If you want a copy of your films, you just make a copy of the disk. The images are also easily manipulated. The doctor can zoom in and out and perform other image manipulations, making it much easier to see what is going on that in films. And, while films are black and white, digital images can be in color, allowing the doctors to more quickly and accurately read them.
 
The photographic industry has been publishing custom labeled CDs for some time. Many stores now have kiosks where you can get your own custom CD with thumbnail images showing whatís on the CD and a date printed on top.
 
Now, if you order software on line and want a disk, you are likely to have a Rimage optical publishing device produce a CD for you with your name and address on the CD, the serial number, a bar code (for mailing) and custom graphics. The advantages of doing this for a software publisher are many fold. They donít have to stock already burned copies of the media. They can produce copies when needed. They can always give you a copy of the latest software build incorporating all of the latest enhancements and bug fixes. Their cost to publish a disk is always fixed, versus a production run of disks which isnít. They can customize software and disk labels for particular customers. They donít have to place an order with a production house, so they donít ever run out of media or have to worry about back orders.
 
There are many other uses for a digital publisher. Weíve received marketing material on disk with product demonstrations, white papers, specification sheets that have been custom printed for us. Real estate and vacation companies can produce inexpensive disks on demand rather than expensive paper brochures and provide a multimedia experience rather than static images. Airplane companies publish disks containing all of the manuals, wiring diagrams, and customization information for a particular airplane cost effectively. Many companies are now archiving data to optical media and labeling the disks at the same time with dates and barcodes so that they can be easily (and automatically) identified later. In short, anyone who wants to publish content on demand and have it digitally available could be a candidate for a digital publishing device.
 
The Rimage units use thermal printing to fuse beautiful prints onto a disk. These prints are very durable and are laser quality black and white or color. The Rimage units also come with very capable software that allows for customizations like adding customer information or bar coding. The units can write and also read barcodes. You could have data archived across many disks, for example, and with barcodes the Rimage could find the disk that contained the information you needed automatically. Watermarks can be written on a disk so that if a disk is copied and given to someone else, you can tell where it came from. This is very useful in situations where security is an issue, such as when a feature film producer is pre-releasing a copy of a movie to critics or a software manufacturer is beta testing a new game. Other security features involve the ability to restrict the capability to produce disks and the logging of disk production. In some offices, a Rimage printer might be used for centralized reading and production of optical disks, eliminating the need for a reader or writer in each machine.
 
While the paperless office may never appear, you now know of a way to save a thousands of trees while producing easily distributed, secure, malleable, digital, on demand information.
 
As you might have guessed, Iron Horse is an authorized dealer of Rimage products.  If you have any questions about on demand disk production, please contact us.

©2008 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse tstirk@ih-online.com