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The devil is hiding in the details

Sat, 05/31/1997 - 8:00pm
Roger Brown
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Some will argue that deploying new services isn't as easy as writing a check, however. A newspaper story out of Boston last month could give some ammunition to that point-of-view, and show why it's been a struggle for many to get high-speed data service up and running. For a lengthy list of potential problems, especially in the software domain, lie waiting to trip up even the most savvy operator.

Seeking real-life input for a cable modem story, a Boston Globe reporter witnessed first-hand how one computer-savvy user of MediaOne 's Highway1 high-speed data service took advantage of a little-known software feature and used it to snoop into the hard drive of his neighbor — who was also subscribing to the service. By simply using the "file share" feature that comes with Windows95, network users can easily browse the contents of other computers attached to the same network.

The problem is that most consumers don't know this. They're not accustomed to being part of a network, and most probably don't realize the ramifications of being attached to one.

The result of the Globe reporter's tour was a lengthy Sunday newspaper feature story that warned users that their files may not be safe from prying eyes. It could have been much worse. If the user had malicious intent, he could have deleted or copied files, planted a virus, rendered his neighbor's computer inoperative or performed a host of other, equally malevolent deeds.

Instead, the story should serve as a wake-up call to both network operators and subscribers, who have been alerted to simply turn off the file sharing feature whenever they log on to MediaOne's Highway1 service. In fact, MediaOne has done an admirable job of attempting to inform its subscribers. At least twice, the sysop has sent out e-mail to users reminding them of the file-sharing utility and how it can be turned off.

If nothing else, this near-miss should be taken as a learning experience. Thousands of man-hours go into launching high-speed data services — from choosing modems, to installing software and getting the back-office support up and running, there are millions of tiny details that have to work in harmony. It's amazing what might slip through the cracks. Keep your eyes open and don't assume anything.

Contact Roger Brown at: RBrowner@aol.com

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