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This chapter is from the book

Who Is This Book Aimed At?

Because this is a book that discusses the IT-related issues associated with the post-9/11 world, I'm writing it primarily for people who know something about computers, software, and information technology. Thus, it should be particularly suitable for programmers, software engineers, database designers, network architects, and people with similar titles in the IT industry.

Indeed, some of what will be happening in the IT field in the coming years will be entirely technical in nature—and will thus be of concern primarily to the technical people who make it happen. How will we go about building more robust, more secure, and more resilient systems? How much redundancy do we need to build into our systems, so that they continue running, or at least exhibit a suitable "fail-soft" behavior, in the face of massive attacks and disruptions? Are today's programming languages, database packages, and configuration-management tools adequate for a new world that demands substantially higher levels of security?

On the other hand, none of these technical issues will be addressed and implemented unless some management decisions are made first. So, a number of the issues discussed in Byte Wars will be particularly relevant to project managers and team leaders; and the "strategic" issues will be on the agenda of meetings between the CIO, CFO, CEO, and other senior executives who ultimately provide the funding and policies for whatever IT systems are built and deployed within an organization.

So, if you're not a programmer or a business executive, does that mean you should put this book down and return to your Tom Clancy spy novels? Perhaps not: I believe that there are IT-related issues that will be relevant for politicians, elected officials, regulators and law-enforcement officers—and ultimately, for the millions of ordinary, average citizens who simply want to get on with their lives.

Obviously, it's the politicians, elected officials, and regulators who establish the laws and regulations that control the behavior of individuals and corporations. We've gotten a first taste of how the politicians have responded to September 11th, with a flurry of new laws of which the so-called PATRIOT bill is the most prominent; and it's reasonable to expect that there will be many more laws and regulations in the coming months and years. Some of these new laws and regulations may involve non-IT issues—e.g., the circumstances under which an individual can be tried by a military tribunal for suspected terrorist activities—and are thus entirely beyond the scope of this book. But other laws will involve issues of computer-related wiretapping, encryption, privacy, security, access to databases, and related technological issues; and I hope that Byte Wars will shed some light on what's realistic and practicable in those areas, and what's not.

Finally, the book is intended for the "man on the street"—the ordinary citizen who simply wants to live an ordinary life. If the September 11th attacks had taken place in 1974, the first year that the World Trade Center opened for business, then the average citizen would expect to play a passive role in any discussion about IT-related consequences. But today, the average citizen has more computing power in his home computer than the entire MIT campus had in 1974; and the computing power of that home computer is augmented by the (computer-enabled) cell phone, Palm Pilot, pager, Blackberry, fax machine, MP3 digital-music player, and Tivo TV-recorder. Half of us have an Internet connection at home, in addition to the network access we have at work; and many of us have always-on, high-speed cable-modem access to the Internet. To further complicate matters, we citizens have access to free encryption packages (e.g., PGP) whose sophistication throws a serious monkey-wrench into the efforts of government agencies to eavesdrop on our private communications.

So what? Well, at the very least, the citizens of the U.S. and other advanced countries around the world are going to be pawns, if not victims, in the high-tech struggles that will take place in the coming years. But to the extent that they decided to participate in those struggles, they have some powerful tools (I hesitate to call them weapons), and they represent a potentially formidable force. To illustrate: I have some 35,000 files and documents on my personal computer; not a single one of them involves anything subversive or threatening to any government, but there are private and confidential files, databases, and spreadsheets that I will do my best to prevent anyone from seeing without my permission. I know how to do this reasonably well, as does any other IT professional; but the average citizen has probably never thought about such issues before, and may be shocked to learn how open and vulnerable his computer files are.

Even before September 11th, operating an Internet-connected home computer was like living in a frontier town in the Wild West of yore. But in the post-9/11 world, it's like living in a frontier town in the midst of a blazing gun-battle between an overbearing, intrusive sheriff and his busy-body deputies, facing off against a gang of rapacious, heavily-armed outlaws.

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