October 12, 2007 By Dan Lohrmann
As the online world changes, is your government spinning up Web 2.0 or shutting it down? It seems a new set of interactive Web sites is born every week. Still, most public-sector CIOs are trying to answer simple questions such as: How far do we go with Web 2.0, and how can we secure it?
From consumer-oriented podcasts to enhanced search capabilities, many government portals are eager to keep up with the latest trend, while others struggle to secure Web 1.x.
In May, the U.S. military banned MySpace, YouTube and several other social networking sites from their networks, citing security concerns and bandwidth limits. The decision made headlines worldwide. In the same month, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulated new French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his historic election victory via YouTube. Two months earlier, Ohio's tourism site proudly announced it was one of the first states with interactive, content creation capabilities that allow citizens to "Share Your Ohio."
So what should you do: Ban, adopt or sit back and study Web 2.0? I say all of the above, with your adoption speed depending on whether you want to be a bleeding-edge, leading-edge, mainstream or laggard organization. The security implications for your government are huge, but so are the benefits.
There's no question those "pesky" young people are changing expectations of what we must provide. A three-minute visit to the Times Online Web site is worth thousands of words. This is truly a new "online experience," with quick-loading maps, travel tips, online postcards and user-generated content. I see few security problems with implementing such quick tourism wins, right now.
But what about letting your employees "play," as some in my office call it? Clearly they'll experience new technology, but pay close attention to the security risks from virus downloads, botnets and worse.
Bandwidth considerations are a huge issue. Many Fortune 500 companies ban video-sharing sites for this reason alone. Even with the technology to limit video bandwidth usage, it's too hard to determine what's in the videos. Pornography can't be allowed, but can it even be detected? Web filtering companies like Websense have promised answers soon, but keep researching this area.
While you're at it, try to determine which MySpace pages qualify as "work-related." Unfortunately it tends to be all or nothing - which is why the military banned the site.
Web 2.0 games can provide interesting training opportunities but also can be a productivity killer. Expect to see more governments setting up tourism offices within Second Life - a virtual reality world - just like the Swedish government, Harvard Law School and major corporations have done. Others will run from this more novel method of attracting new users.
Of course, I'm assuming you have "Web 1.0" content and mail filtering technology in place already, protecting you from viruses and malicious code. If not, make that your first priority, along with updated policies that address areas such as protecting sensitive information, reporting breaches and training employees on 21st-century behavior expectations. Updating policies should be a regular activity for a committee with input from business customers, human resources and legal.
Perhaps the biggest change that comes with Web 2.0 is the new levels of cross-boundary government (and public-private) collaboration required to make "mash-ups." Mash-ups occur when multiple information sources are used to create new Web sites and new value for citizens. One great example of this is a new project that will let online tourists experience the Battle of Gettysburg in innovative multimedia ways. This effort involves federal, state and local governments, as well as many private companies, such as Google.
No matter where you are with Web 2.0, start talking with partners now because integration is the hardest part from a security perspective. Answer questions like: Who shares what information? Who owns the data? What happens if ...?
Though I support a "secure Web 2.0," the challenge is figuring out what that means in our constantly changing world. Apprehension is to be expected, but get in the game.
Dan Lohrmann is Michigan's chief information security officer. He has more than 23 years of worldwide security experience and has won numerous awards for his leadership in the information security field.
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