Long before I was a security geek, I was a systems administrator. Oh sure, security goes with the territory when you're a systems administrator, but it's only one aspect of the job.

Needless to say, I've maintained email servers as part of my duties, where I've had plenty of access to look at people's private emails. I also ran a computer bulletin board in the late 1980s, where I had the same privilege. In college, I did a term paper where I wrote about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which protects people's personal email, but does little to protect corporate email. Provisions in the law allow business to monitor their networks for business purposes, which means they can see everything going on--including potentially non-business related communications.

While generally speaking, all an employer in the U.S. has to do is disclose that use of the corporate network is subject to monitoring, that is not the case in many European countries, where there are strict data privacy laws forbidding the practice. That would make it difficult for, let's say, Nokia, to find out if a Finland-based employee was leaking secrets about upcoming handsets. It's so difficult, in fact, that there was a reported rumor that Nokia was threatening to leave Finland if they couldn't get a law passed that would allow employee email monitoring.

While Nokia spokespeople are officially denying this rumor, it doesn't change the fact that the passing of such a law would be extremely beneficial to Nokia. Many companies, including Nokia, have a similar problem: how can evidence of corporate wrongdoing be found when you can't look where evidence of wrongdoing would easily be found? In Europe, obviously, there are strict laws regulating who can see or do what with "private" electronic communications like email.

Even if monitoring workplace communications is legal, let's assume the communication is somehow encrypted. How would you determine something inappropriate is going on? One school of thought is that the very use of encryption implies you have something to hide--something the company might not like.

Even if a communication is encrypted, some things about the communication usually aren't: who it's coming from, where it's going to, and how much data or how long it is. One can certainly make some inferences based on that information, but one cannot conclusively prove that wrongdoing is taking place. However, you might find out enough just from that information alone to suspect something.

Of course, if you're going to leak any company secrets, it's probably best not to do it using the corporate network ;)

My friends at Sourcefire shared a rather interesting experience about using an Internet-connected computer in an East African country. Broadband is still a dream there, and dialup is most certainly not cheap when it's charged by the minute.

Aside from just the experience of using the Internet on dialup--which I effectively did about 18 months ago during a move--there is a serious question about how up-to-date you can keep a computer when you have to download the multi-megabyte security updates over a non flat-rate dialup connection. The short answer: you can't.

In reality, no operating system is spared the pain of large updates. While Microsoft is bagged on for constant needs for updating, Mac OS X and Linux also have them. My last Mac OS X set of updates under 10.4 was over 200mb, which would take me more than 8 hours on a 56k line! Linux seems to require fewer updates, though it does depend on which applications you have installed.

Then, of course, there are the updates for the anti-virus and security software. I don't run anti-virus and security software on Mac or Linux, but you can bet that I do run it on all my Windows boxes. Yet more updates to be downloaded over a slower connection.

Between the third world and places in the first world where broadband hasn't reached yet, there is still a significant population on dialup. Even though these computers aren't online 24x7 like you are with broadband, the real security problems aren't blocked by the Windows Firewall that has been installed and enabled by default since XP SP2, it's the web browser.

I did find a clever-looking program called ForceField, which is focused entirely on web browser-specific protections. I haven't tried it, just yet, but I suspect once the acquisition of Nokia's Security Appliance is completed, it should be relatively easy for me to get a copy to try out for longer than a few days. ;)

While ForceField addresses a small part of the problem, I'm not sure there is a good solution to the general problem of pushing larger and larger software down a dialup-sized pipe. Even with the protection that ForceField provides, it's always a good idea to keep your operating system and applications up to date.

Several years ago, I purchased a domain for our family. Upon doing the prerequisite search, we ultimately settled on a .net name. Not our first choice, but it was what was available.

On 1 January, I got an email from a company called Zip Domains on my admin email address:

Our company specializes in acquiring expired domain names to help individuals and businesses protect their brand online.

The domain name XXXXXX.COM is expired and will become available soon.

We noticed that you own XXXXXX.NET and felt that you may be interested in acquiring the .COM version of your existing domain name.

We can assist in trying to acquire the domain name, as there are likely many interested parties competing for it.

There are no upfront costs, and the fee if we are successful is only $199 USD.

If you are interested, please let us know by January 3 at the latest.

Sorry, but someone tried to sell me the domain earlier in the year for less than that. Think I'm going to pay $199 to some company that spammed me? Fat chance!

At that point, I checked the whois registry and found the domain was about to be removed from DNS, just like they said. I figured, I'll wait a few days for it to be removed from the whois registry and try to purchase it through 1&1.

On the 9th, I got another email from Zip Domains telling me they had secured the rights to the domain and I could purchase it from them for only $99!

Our company specializes in acquiring expired domain names to help individuals and businesses protect their brand online.

The domain name XXXXXX.COM expired recently and we were able to secure it.

We noticed the you own XXXXXX.COM and felt that you may be interested in acquiring the .COM version of your existing domain name.

It is available for a one-time fee of only $99.00 USD.

To purchase or learn more, please visit http://zipdomains.com/buy.php?domain=xxxxxx.com

While the domain was still showing as being deleted in whois, when I checked the next day, it was available. I went into my domain control panel on 1&1 and ordered the .com domain for $8.99, saving me over 1000% what Zip Domains wanted to charge!

I thank Zip Domains for making me aware of the expired domain. However, there was zero chance I was going to pay above the typical registration cost for a domain, particularly for my family where the value of having "the right" domain is relatively low.

I have to wonder how many people fall for zipdomains "scam," buying a domain they could have had for the nominal cost if they waited a few days. It's not clear to me ZipDomains actually does anything to secure a domain name. The domain was either marked as "being deleted" or "not present" in whois when Zip Domains told me they had secured it for my purchase, so I question their legitimacy. (If someone from Zip Domains wants to rebut my statements, leave a comment below)

In short, beware of companies that are trying to scare you into buying a domain from them or send you "renewal" notices in the postal mail--that's my favorite one.

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At one time, I thought about doing my own site for "home user" network security. Nice to see my buddies over at The Academy doing it with The Academy Home. While the site is relatively new, they do have a few how-to videos available already, including installing a program I recommend wholeheartedly: K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat Systems.

I'd like to see some stuff on configuring Windows XP with non-admin users for your kids. I have to do this for my friends all the time. That right there makes it more difficult for a piece of malware that does get in to do any damage.

As I write this, I am still a Nokia employee. Yesterday's announcement did not change that, at least until the deal closes sometime in the next three months. Meanwhile, here are a few of the more interesting pieces that appeared online regarding the announcement.