Military, business must be ready for online future

Saturday, June 23, 2007

It hasn't been all that many years since the Internet first arrived in Southwest Nebraska, but it's quickly become something we take for granted.

Twenty years ago, a fax machine was about the most sophisticated form of communication used to produce this newspaper, if one didn't count the satellite feed that brought news text from The Associated Press.

Now, it's to the point that communications via print media, a technology that dates back centuries, is as dependent on 21st century electronic communication as any other industry.

The same holds true for nearly everyone, whether the mechanic who searches for hard-to-find parts for an out of date vehicle, to the shopper who is only able to find clothes to fit by going online, to the retailer who keeps track of inventory and instantly verifies a check, to the bank that issues the credit.

Don't think the Internet affects your life? Just watch what happens when the Web goes down -- something that is, thankfully, surprisingly rare.

Most businesses would grind to a halt if their computers went offline -- except perhaps the coffee shops that would suddenly be swamped while all the workers in town took a break. Even they would have to keep track of purchases the old fashioned way.

The Pentagon realizes just how vulnerable we are to cyberattack -- it had to take 1,500 computers offline when a hacker attacked via e-mail this week.

Officials say it wasn't that serious a situation, but the Air Force secretary announced on Nov. 3 that it would form the new Cyberspace Command to counter just such attacks.

Officials at Offutt Air Force base say that base is in the running for the headquarters of the new command, since it already is home to the high-tech Strategic Command which controls all of America's nuclear weapons.

But as an Omaha World-Herald story pointed out, nobody knows just how many jobs landing the Cyberspace Command would mean for Omaha, since online jobs can be conducted from anywhere a fast Internet connection is available.

Thanks to local infrastructure, Southwest Nebraska is just as vulnerable as anywhere to cyberattacks, and just as able to play a part in preventing them. The location of a branch of the 21CSI software development company on the McCook Community College campus is just one example of the possibilities.

And, just because the Gazette is primarily a print media, that doesn't mean its customers have to be out of the cyberloop. Already, many read a free, abbreviated online version, including Associated Press video, in places as distant as Australia and Iraq. And soon, the newspaper's online offering will be expanded to offer a complete line of services via the Internet.

Clearly, the Internet or its descendants will be key to communications for years to come. Businesses, individuals and government are wise to prepare to meet the challenges and reap the rewards that will result.

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