IT to Ashcroft: Were Already on Alert

A heightened terrorism alert warning from Attorney General John Ashcroft means one thing to IT managers: business as usual.

A heightened terrorism alert warning from Attorney General John Ashcroft means one thing to IT managers: business as usual.

IT executives said they are already on alert and there is nothing more they can do to make their companies ready for a possible attack, the nature and timing of which were not defined in a warning from Ashcroft last week.

"Were on constant alert right now, so at this point the Ashcroft alerts dont provoke any different behavior in our organization," said Blaise DAmbrosio, manager for business continuity planning for a large mutual funds company in New York.

Part of being on alert, he explained, is to have a plan to allow key personnel to work from home in the event of a widespread bioterror attack. This means seeing that these people have high-speed VPN (virtual private network) Internet access at their homes. "The basic premise of a bioterror attack is that infrastructure is running; you just cant physically get to it," DAmbrosio explained.

Other IT executives agreed that readiness to work from home is key to their response. "Weve all worked from home before and could easily do so again. We dont do anything differently when there is warning," said Brian Jaffe, an IT manager at a New York-based company and an eWEEK columnist. "With the first warning, I wore casual clothes with good walking shoes to work for a few days. I also made a point to carry my cell phone."

One business continuity manager at a New York-based securities firm said the frequency of alerts risks dulling the edge of preparedness. "The danger is that over time the effectiveness of the alerts diminishes."

But, he added, its entirely possible that the alert could have caused an incident to be averted, which is impossible to know for certain. "Its like Y2K. People say it was a non-event, but it wasnt. People headed off guys with explosives at the border," he said.

The business continuity manager also said that current terror alerts focus on what are expected to be typical terror targets such as transportation hubs, major corporations and nuclear power plants. Cyber-terrorism, because it is less visible, is generally not considered a primary terror target, he said.

With a mysterious anthrax death in New York, he said his company, like others, has a plan in place to allow people to work from home. "If the anthrax is spread and your building were closed, then youd follow your business continuity plan in the case that the building is unavailable."