Scanning Retrospective, No. 26

‘From the pages of prospect’ – No. 1

[Originally published] Issue 2, Dec 2000

From this post onwards, we now dip into the items that were published in the Foresight Bulletin, prospect, starting with issue 2, the first issue that I edited. Most will not be given in their entirety, since they were often full-length articles taken from journals, magazines or other long-form sources. Rather, it will be sufficient to just give the ‘flavour’ of the piece in order to see how well they have ‘aged’. Initially, there were a handful of Snippets-ish type items, but these soon gave way to longer-form articles.

  • Ain’t no network strong enough
  • Home is where the e-classroom is
  • Internet contributes to rise of identity theft, FTC says

Ain’t no network strong enough

(Brendan I. Koerner)

Bruce Schneier, master cryptographer and idol of the computer underground, writes in his latest book, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World, in essence: “in cyberspace, you’re dead meat on a stick.”

“Computer insecurity is inevitable,” he warns. “Networks will be hacked. Fraud will be committed. Money will be lost. People will die.” Indeed, the bulk of Secrets and Lies is a harrowing run-down of the myriad pitfalls that plague even the simplest systems. As Schneier sees it, the wired universe is plagued with hard-to-fix vulnerabilities. Computer networks, he has come to believe, are so dauntingly complex that loopholes will always remain.

The outlook offered by Secrets and Lies is so grim that readers might be inclined to join an abacus-using Luddite clan in Micronesia, far from anything as elementary as an ATM or Ms. Pac-Man machine. Schneier sympathises; he admits that depression forced him to cease working on the manuscript for over a year. “I got two-thirds of the way through the book without giving the reader any hope at all,” he writes. “It was about then I realised that I didn’t have the hope to give.”

Fortunately for the reader’s mental health, Secrets and Lies does contain a few strains of optimism. Given the inevitability of attacks, “prevention” can no longer be the security buzzword. Just as even the finest hockey goalies must regularly suffer the humiliation of allowing a goal, companies must learn to live with penetrations. Prepare for the worst, Schneier urges. Make sure networks are designed to “fail safe.” Have a recovery plan in place. Track down attackers by collecting and analysing forensic data. Assess the risks and purchase some insurance.

This is an edited version of the complete article by Brendan I. Koerner. Used with the permission of

Home is where the e-classroom is

(Kendra Mayfield)

Some of the most tech-savvy students can’t be found in the classroom. In fact, many of them don’t even go to school. Home schooling has long been an alternative for parents who believe they can provide a better education at home than their kids can receive in the public school system.

While some traditional schools are struggling to wire classrooms, many home-school families are using the Internet, DVD courseware, CD-Roms, and other educational tools at home. “The use of computers in the home-school environment is just exploding,” said William Lloyd, researcher for the National Home Education Research Institute.

“The traditional classroom is built on a 19th-century model of education. Some home schoolers are already getting a 21st-century education,” said Scott Somerville, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association. Experts estimate that there are more than 1.7 million home-schooled children in the United States, growing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent every year.

According to a 1997 study, approximately 86 percent of home school families reported owning a computer, compared to the 34 percent national average for U.S. families. Since the report, the number of home school families using chat rooms, email lists, and listserves has increased tenfold, Lloyd said. “Technology has changed home schooling for a lot
of families,” Lloyd said. “It gives them more ways for teaching, more ways for deploying curriculum, and more ways for keeping in touch with other home schoolers.”

Parents choose to teach their children at home for a variety of motives ranging from medical reasons to religious beliefs to concerns over school safety or substandard educational opportunities. For many, home schooling is an academically challenging way to learn.

Source: Wired News
This is an edited version of the complete article by Kendra Mayfield. “Copyright © 1994-2000 Wired Digital Inc., a Lycos Network company. All rights reserved.” Reprinted according to Wired Digital’s reprinting guidelines.

[Commentary given in the issue of prospect at the time:]
In a future with a growing number of students being “home-schooled,” there are implications for the type of students who will present themselves for tertiary-level education. Will they be sufficiently socialised with learners of their own age? Will there be a need to create remedial classes in “Basic Student Interaction 101”? What if they choose to do all their learning through virtual environments offered by tertiary institutions? Would we then run the risk of contributing to a society which, while increasingly technologically “connected,” nevertheless has increasingly socially dis-connected people?

Although I once worked in a well-known Internet company, I am deeply sceptical of the practice of using technology simply for technology’s sake. We need to ensure it properly serves the needs of the people who use it and are supposed to benefit from it. In our rush to become more competitive and offer more and more courses on-line, we also need to keep squarely in view the potential downsides of a “largely on-line” education. This helps us ensure that we make informed decisions in a context of awareness, rather than simply create technological options in a default context of ignorance or indifference. Once we are aware of the effects, both positive and negative, we are then better able to enhance the positive, and reduce or counteract the negative. This is not a statement of [what is incorrectly called] Luddism; rather it is a call for an open-eyed and honest open-minded assessment of where our technological choices are leading us. And to remember the human being in all of this.

Internet contributes to rise of identity theft, FTC says

(Cecily Barnes)

Calls to the (US) Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft hotline have tripled in the past six months, and the Internet is partly to blame. The FTC said today that it received an average of 1,000 calls per week to its Identity Theft hotline during the month of July. By comparison, the department received some 400 calls per week in March, said FTC attorney Helen Foster.

“We think that perpetrators who would hesitate to show up to a bank or apply for a credit card in person would find it much easier to do over the Internet,” Foster said. “Applying for credit over the Internet is a faceless thing to do.” Foster also said that the Internet acts as a conduit for the dissemination of people’s personal data, including names, addresses, credit card numbers and other identifying information.

The most common FTC complaint involved credit card fraud, with 50 percent of consumers complaining of credit cards opened in their name or similar activities, according to an FTC statement. Cell phone fraud came in second, accounting for 28 percent of reported complaints. In these cases, thieves steal a cell phone’s encryption numbers and transfer them to different phones, which results in the calls being charged to the original phones. Other consumers reported having bank accounts opened in their name or having imposters gain loans in their name.

“It’s both high tech and low tech,” Foster said. “We have people who are dumpster diving and people using skimmers to collect encryption numbers from people’s cell phones.”

Source: News
Reprinted with permission from CNET, Inc. © Copyright 1995-2000.

[Commentary given in the issue of prospect at the time:]
Projecting the concepts of “identity theft” and “computer insecurity” into the realm of “on-line learning,” there are clear implications for on-line courses and the academic credit that accrues to a particular “on-line identity.” How can we be sure – as teachers and administrators – that a particular on-line identity is really the same as the “physical” identity associated with a human being? As more courses move on-line, there will be increasing instances of either outright theft, or fraudulent use, of on-line identity. After all, there are already instances of people attempting to sit exams on behalf of someone else – I myself once supervised one such exam and witnessed the attempted (and unsuccessful) deception. How much more difficult will it become to ensure that Virtual Student identity XYZ gaining a course credit for an on-line course was really and consistently the same as Physical Student identity XYZ during all of the assessment?

prospect is a quarterly publication of the Foresight & Planning Unit, Swinburne University of Technology.

Futura tenaciter in prospectu tenemus

This publication is intended to serve the broader Swinburne community, by highlighting areas of interest and concern to Swinburne stakeholders, by helping us take a long-term foresight view, and to expand our perceptions of our strategic options as we move forward together into our common future.

This collection is © 2000 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology. Copyright for the individual articles resides with the original authors and/or the original sources as listed. All articles have been used either with express permission or, where express permission is not required, following stipulated re-use guidelines.

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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