The Bombs in Our Basements

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-08-19 Print this article Print

What insurance coverage do you actually have? Are you sure?

Whenever Im out of the loop for a week or more, I wonder what kind of time warp Ill experience when I return. When I began this month by taking five Boy Scouts on a 30-mile backpack trip through Donohue Pass, on the east edge of Yosemite, we came down from the mountaintops to find ourselves in a world that might have been lifted from cyber-punk fiction.

In the Middle East, Explosive Pumped Flux Generator "lightning bombs" are apparently in the arsenal for potential use in Iraq, ready to take out command-and-control systems. Do not try this at home, please. I dont want to see these things at the next science fair that I judge.

In my own Southern California environs, two area residents had been indicted for allegedly cracking the computer of one suspects former employer and deleting a $2.6 million proj- ect. One has to wonder if this is like a drug bust, where reports describe the street value of confiscated wares—rather than the actual cost of the raw goods to the would-be sellers, only a tiny fraction of that amount. What was the actual damage?

In this case, the files were described as being recovered at a cost of $5,000—which raises several additional questions.

First, why would it ever cost $5,000 to locate and restore current backups—presumably stored offline—of critical files? Or werent there any such backups, in which case, whos being fired for putting the company at such outrageous risk?

Second, if the destruction had been complete, what would the insurance company have paid? Would they have walked in, found no damage to the hardware and left without writing a check?

For that matter, what insurance coverage do you have against such acts? Are you protected against user errors that destroy data without deliberate abuse? Against hardware or software failure that destroys or delays work, perhaps triggering contract penalty clauses? Against acts of sabotage that you fail to mitigate by taking reasonable precautions—where the state of the art of "reasonable" is a rapidly moving target?

What coverage do you actually have? Are you sure? Or do you, too, have anti-IT bombs just waiting to explode?

Tell me whats blown up lately at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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