Magazine article Security Management

Secure Communications

Magazine article Security Management

Secure Communications

Article excerpt

Journal Communications, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has newspaper, radio, and television operations around the country. While these widespread subsidiaries carry out most of their responsibilities independently, certain financial transactions and other back office operations are centralized at the home office. For those activities, the company decided that a secure means of computer-to-computer communications was needed.

In the past, employees could send information from their computers to the home office via modem, but they could not work directly in the headquarters' mainframe from a remote location. The result was that employees never knew whether the information they sent to the mainframe actually arrived unless they called the main office in Milwaukee and asked someone to check on the status of the transmitted data.

"It was like sending information into a black hole," says Jim Herzfeld, the technical services manager at the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel newspaper, the company's flagship operation. "Like a black hole sucks information in and gives nothing out, that's what our computer system was doing."

The system was intentionally set up that way for security purposes, Herzfeld says. Instead of giving employees secret passwords into the network, the company decided to block everyone who tried to dial into the database from a remote location.

"It's just too easy to break a password," Herzfeld says. "Our security was to do one-way communication."

The system had worked for several years. Herzfeld says there were several occasions when hackers had tried unsuccessfully to break into the database and call up company finances or other proprietary information. The computer would simply record the keystrokes of the hacker, but release no information.

While the block-out kept thieves at bay, it also made work much more difficult for company employees located in subsidiaries in St. Louis, Las Vegas, and Lansing, Michigan. In 1993, management reviewed the existing arrangement and decided that the company needed a better security system.

To solve the problem, Journal Communications installed the Access Control Encryption (ACE) System, made by Security Dynamics Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Herzfeld, who was instrumental in buying and installing the technology for the company, said the ACE System has given administrative employees at the company's thirty subsidiaries a flexibility they hadn't had before.

Users are issued SecurID smart cards, which resemble a credit card but have a liquid crystal display (LCD) window in the upper right hand comer. …

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