The Bot Zone
Alex Haddox waves a security key card in front of a scanner before he moves through a series of reinforced doors and walks into his computer lab in Santa Monica, Calif. He has no E-mail. His computer can't access the Internet. Nor can the other 120 systems surrounding him. Nothing is ever downloaded here. The measures are in place to prevent a lethal virus from entering the network, which Haddox's team uses to study the countless infections that spread throughout the computerized world.
This is the Symantec Antivirus Research Center, or SARC, and Haddox is the director. The lab, founded in 1989, is funded by Symantec, a maker of antivirus products. Here more than 30 virus experts spend their days examining the 9 to 12 bugs that spring up around the globe every day.
For years now Haddox has studied the devastating effects of boot-sector viruses. These viruses infect the files that allow the computer to operate and can only be transferred by human contact--meaning via a floppy disk. But they aren't what keeps Haddox up at night.
The latest threat is called a macro virus, which burrows into the code of applications such as word processors. Unlike its predecessors, it can easily migrate across most platforms. These devilish lines of code can sit dormant on a computer for years before they bring down an entire network. Worst of all, they are simple to write and spread at a terrifying pace across the Internet.
The first macro virus to be identified was called the "concept virus." It is the most prolific virus in history. A twisted taunt, it does nothing--save avoid detection. A trained eye only knows it exists because of the message hidden in its code: "And that is enough to prove my point."
Macro viruses get mainlined into computers around the world every day. Recently a bandit infected a computer at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, with a form of virus that is similar to the macro. Before SARC was called in to identify the virus and come up with the cure, it had spread to six countries in two weeks. "We cured it, but not before it had reached as far as South Africa, England, and the United States," says Haddox. -- Joshua Macht
Things We Love
As a patent attorney for the Boston law firm of Banner & Witcoff, Charlie Call spent hours in meetings watching his clients scribble technical mumbo-jumbo on whiteboards. While the excited company heads furiously jotted down notes, Call and his colleagues would try to keep up on their legal pads. When that didn't work, Call would bring in his secretary to snap a Polaroid of the board before it was erased, or ask her to spend her lunch hour typing up the chicken scratch.
Then, three years ago, Call found a better solution: MicroTouch's Ibid, an electronic whiteboard ($499). Now Call simply hooks up the Ibid whiteboard to his computer via a parallel port, and everything that is written on it is saved automatically in a computer file. Afterward, he can either E-mail the information to the people who need it, print it out, or cut and paste it into, say, a Microsoft Word document. "I keep the system running all the time," says Call, who gets a kick out of capturing his visitors' doodlings.
Call, who works at home every other day, says the system is great for keeping him up to date on meetings that are held while he's out of the office. And he's not the only one who's thrilled by Ibid. No longer do the secretaries at Banner & Witcoff have to spend hours trying to decode the arcana of a room full of techies. "They really appreciate being able to go to lunch instead," says Call. -- Sarah Schafer
Spend 10 seconds in the lobby of the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and your preconceptions of libraries as repositories of out-of-date periodicals and yellowing cards in dusty cabinets will disappear. An expansive mix of oak and stainless steel, the room's most prominent features are a sense of light and openness--and a wall adorned with state-of-the-art interactive kiosks.
SIBL, pronounced "Sybil," opened in May 1996 in New York City. Its mission: to serve as the prototype for the 21st-century library by combining extensive electronic resources with a massive collection of paper (1.2 million volumes reside in the research section and an additional 50,000 circulate). Its target audience is small businesses, which "simply don't have the resources in-house to do the research they need," says Betty Jean Lacy, a SIBL librarian and small-business specialist.
Patrons must reserve one of the 82 workstations ahead of time. These systems can be used to search nearly 100 business and government databases, ranging from Nexis to import/export collections, or to browse the Internet. There are also 42 computers that provide access to the card catalog and are available on a first-comefirst-served basis. Got a laptop? Bring it along: there are 500 jacks to accommodate it.
The library has been a boon for entrepreneurs like Sharon Geller Metal, whose small business, SGM Design, in New York City, designs Judaica and gifts. Using an on-line version of the Thomas Register accessed through a SIBL computer, Metal located manufacturers for her hard-to-make wares in just a few weeks. And when she needed to learn how to get a loan, she consulted with volunteers from the Small Business Administration's Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE), which keeps an office there. The SCORE folks also taught her how to write a business plan.
But with all those computers, how will SIBL handle the inevitable upgrades? Simple. Its floor is raised eight inches, making the wiring as accessible as the information. -- Anne Field
Percentage of on-line users who've witnessed chat-room misconduct
foul/abusive language 65%
adult conversations 59%
offensive remarks 58%
adult messages 47%
attempt at getting password/credit-card info. 38%
direct solicitation 26%
Source: Yankelovich Partners/Cyber Dialogue, 1997.
Site After Death
When a company goes belly-up, the rank and file say their good-byes and begin job hunting. But what about the staff of a Web-based outfit, who depend on a virtual environment for their livelihood?
They're reborn in a new cyber-incarnation, of course. That's what happened at Nets Inc., a Web-based company specializing in on-line commerce that declared bankruptcy in May. Two days after former CEO Jim Manzi made the announcement, software engineer Kevin Jarnot created a Web site to help the 200 or so laid-off workers find new jobs. "When we got Manzi's good-bye letter, we broke out the scotch and started toasting each other," recalls Jarnot. "After one glass, I volunteered to build the Web site."
Jarnot created a bulletin board where recruiters could post job opportunities and employees could ask questions like "Will I receive my last paycheck?" He also compiled a directory of employees' names and E-mail addresses and gave his former colleagues the option of posting their rÃ‰sumÃ‰s on-line.
The Web site quickly became a hot spot for headhunters. "I would put down the phone, and there would be three more calls from recruiters," says Jarnot. Today Jarnot, along with most of Nets's former employees, have returned to work under the company's new owner, Perot Systems, in Dallas. But the site is still up and running. "I'll probably leave it up forever as a memorial to the fallen company," he says. -- J.M.
Intranets are sprouting up like weeds among the Fortune 1000, where employees praise their democratic character, and executives extol their incomparable return on investment. But what role, if any, will they play in smaller companies? Recently Steve Telleen, founder of Iorg.com, an intranet consulting company in Pleasanton, Calif. (and proud coiner of the term "intranet"), discussed the question with Inc. Technology.
Q: Intranets make sense in companies where you have to distribute, say, the new-benefits manual to 30,000 employees. What about companies where you only have to distribute it to 30 people?
A: Intranets--and this is true for companies of any size--can help people communicate when they have trouble getting together in one place at one time. If you've got people who are not all working on the same schedule and on the same projects--who have things pulling their time apart--an intranet lets them collaborate asynchronously.
For example, when I worked at Amdahl Corp.--which I realize is a large company, but the principle still applies--we had this project for which several of us collected information. Then we put that information on the intranet and created logical links, though each person remained the "editor" of the information that he or she had collected. So I could go in at any time and look at what other people were doing, and they could go in and see what I was doing. As a result, when we got together for meetings, we could dispense with presenting our findings to each other because we'd already done that on-line. And our face-to-face meetings could focus on things that truly required human interaction.
Q: Is intranet technology getting friendlier?
A: Yes, I think so. In the beginning a lot of the base pieces had to be built. But now we're starting to see plug-in pieces, shrink-wrapped kinds of things. My favorite scenario for the future involves plug-in network services, tools like the little Twister intranet-server box that Compact Devices puts out. There are some other companies playing with the idea, and I think that in 1998 you're going to start seeing them take off.
Q: So how should small companies get started?
A: The most successful intranets start at the grass roots, where you don't have a lot of rules and policies about publishing. The best thing to do is to establish a seed period during which you encourage as many non-IT people as possible to publish. Sure, you can put up a company phone directory if you're big enough, or marketing material, or meeting minutes. But I say, Let people start using the intranet as a way to present to others what they're doing in the business. It will evolve out of that.
Number of pagers in service in the United States
|Main reason for getting a pager||Age 25-34||Age 35-44|
|Be more productive at work||41%||55%|
|Sense of security||28%||24%|
|Keep in touch with friends/family||21%||19%|
|Keep up to date with social events||1%||0%|
|Like to have latest high-tech products||1%||0%|
Source: Motorola, March 1997.
Peanuts, Popcorn, or Power Tool?
When you're standing in front of a vending machine pondering your choices, you're probably thinking, "Snickers or M&M's?" not "Power drill or earplugs?" But Kent Savage, founder of Vertex Technologies, a 75-employee high-tech company in Cincinnati, decided that manufacturing companies might benefit from a vending machine that dispensed tools--not Coca-Cola--to their employees.
Savage's products, called Automatic Tool Dispensers (ATDs), are computerized vending machines that allow workers to punch in codes to take and return tools that they use on the shop floor. The machines' software (conceptualized by Savage) keeps track of which employees take the tools and how often. The ATDs, which are situated right on the shop floor, can be linked to desktop computers, allowing managers to run reports on inventory and usage. For example, Bob Trebe, plant manager for Prince Industries, a $12-million contract manufacturer of machine-part and sheet-metal products in Carol Stream, Ill., uses the reporting capabilities to keep an eye on how his workers are using tools. Recently he saw on a daily-usage report that one worker was ripping through turning-tool inserts during a certain job. Upon investigating, he discovered that the employee had the machine running so fast that he was wearing out the inserts. So Trebe showed the man how to slow the machine down and, in the process, increase the life span of the tools. Trebe estimates the ATD saves his company thousands of dollars a year on managing inventory.
The ATDs can be as small as a bread box or as large as a refrigerator, and prices vary just as widely (usually from $15,000 to $50,000). Next to real-time inventory information, Savage considers increased productivity to be the machines' greatest benefit. Hours can be saved, he says, by slicing the time it takes for workers to walk to and from a tool crib. A year ago, he says, Boeing conducted a study and discovered that its mechanics walked four miles a day just going from the tool crib back to their places on the assembly line. Figuring that workers could exercise on their own time, Boeing installed a fleet of Savage's machines shortly after the study was completed. -- S.S.
If you can't wait to start collecting customers' credit-card numbers over the Web but you still worry about Internet security, you might want to chat with Steven Haase, senior vice-president of Hamilton Dorsey Alston Co., in Atlanta. Haase is an insurance broker and chief architect of Internet Security Liability (ISL), an insurance policy covering financial risks of on-line commerce.
Haase envisioned selling such a product more than two years ago but had trouble finding backers. The big problem is that accurate statistics about Internet losses don't exist. And without accurate numbers, underwriters don't know what kind of risk they may be facing. "There aren't really any actuarial studies of Internet commerce," Haase says. "Banks and other merchants aren't too forthcoming with that sort of information." Haase convinced American International Group, an insurance company in New York City, to sign on as the underwriter and now sells the policy nationwide. "The company was willing to take the risk to get the market share," he explains.
What kind of coverage does ISL provide? Let's say that hackers steal credit-card information from your server, and the credit-card company sues you for breach of security. Haase's standard plan would cover you for $250,000. The minimum premium is $2,500 annually, but if your site is certified through the National Computer Security Association's audit program, you qualify for a 25% discount. "I've worked with technology companies for about 12 years," says Haase. "When the Internet emerged, I saw a huge trend toward going on-line, but no one was addressing the issue of exposure. Now, finally, companies can protect themselves." -- J.M.
Total on-line (over age of 21) 22%
X-ers (born 1965-1976) 27%
Boomers (1946-1964) 29%
Matures (1945 or before) 12%
Source: Yankelovich Partners/Cyber Dialogue, 1997.