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[ISN] Don't Put All Your Data in One Basket
By Alex Salkever
APRIL 8, 2003
The biggest threat isn't a hacker -- it's a fire, flood, or a physical
attack. Be sure you have genuine backup and the right kind of
Baghdad's telecommunications infrastructure fell silent during the
first week of April under a rain of precision-guided bombs. U.S. and
British planes targeted phone facilities and other critical pieces of
the Iraqi communications infrastructure, mirroring campaigns in
Afghanistan and the first Gulf War to isolate the leadership from the
levers of power.
CEOs in the U.S. needn't worry about an F-15 taking out their data
connections. And it's also clear that firewalls, antivirus systems,
and other digital protective gear all have their places in the
best-laid plans to safeguard a business. That said, the U.S. military
chose to use bombs -- not hackers -- to drop Iraqi networks for a
reason. Nothing brings a network to a halt more easily and quickly
than physical damage, whether it be from a plane hitting the World
Trade Center, massive floods in Texas, or a high-temperature chemical
fire on a train passing through a Baltimore tunnel filled with
TELECOM "HOTELS." Yet as data transmission becomes the lifeblood of
Corporate America, most big companies haven't performed due diligence
to determine how damage-proof their data lifelines really are. Only
20% of midsize and large companies have seriously sussed out what
happens to their data connections after they go beyond the company
firewall, says Peter Salus, chief knowledge officer of
MatrixNetSystems, a network-optimization company based in Austin.
The collapse of the World Trade Center left most of Lower Manhattan,
the epicenter of the global financial system, without data connections
for a week or more. Many of the affected companies thought they were
covered for any eventuality, having contracted for not one but two
high-capacity data connections from their offices.
Redundancy doesn't help much, however, if your Sprint and AT&T
connections pass through the same geographical location. "There were a
lot of cables and suppliers that terminated on West Street or World
Trade Center 7. They were wiped out," explains Salus, who adds: "If
you were on WorldCom, which came out of Midtown Manhattan, you didn't
notice a thing."
TWO INTO ONE. All the more reason for companies to make sure that the
data connections they rely on for security aren't stored in the same
building and vulnerable to the same threats. Unfortunately, massing
huge chunks of connectivity in so-called "telecom hotels" is the norm.
"We go physically visit the site. You'll often find 40 or 50 different
carriers in the same building," says Jonah Yokubaitis, CEO of
Texas.net, a large Internet service provider with 1,000 business
customers in the Lone Star State.
When networks are less diverse and alternative pathways from Point A
to Point B are far more limited, most of the risk is in getting data
out of the local loop, he says. Once the information leaves the
telecom hotel, data carriers often carry traffic across shared strands
of fiber. Says Yokubaitis: "You need to make sure both of your
connections don't run over the same fiber path. You may be dealing
with different companies, but the fiber may be going over the same
Here's what smart companies can do to minimize risks: First, chief
technology officers can run a simple trace-route check. This basic
piece of software sends out a package of data and watches its path.
"If [the data] go through the same set of Internet protocol numbers
[unique numbers used to identify each device on the Internet], then
you're going through the same place, even if it is someone else
supplying the stuff," says Salus.
THINK LOCAL. Second, visiting co-location facilities where your data
carrier houses its equipment is key. Finally, make sure vital
locations can continue to function even if they lose their Internet
connection to the outside world. That means placing servers containing
copies of key software and company data on local networks at different
locations. "In those highly critical areas, you probably want to be
redundant, without the need of external communications," says Paul
Mockapetris, a key architect of the early Internet and chief scientist
and chairman of Redwood City (Calif.) software concern Nominum.
The upshot of all this? Fires or floods or, God forbid, another
terrorist attack are all genuine possibilities, and a byte of
prevention is worth a megabyte of cure.
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