One of the most valuable skills for a security professional is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Effective communications begin with an understanding of topics being discussed or presented. Every industry has its own unique collection of terms, phrases and acronyms. Physical security professionals are familiar with terms like “bollard” and acronyms like CPTED. And now with convergence, physical security professionals must learn the language of the information technology professional as well.
For many, the thought of learning computer terminology conjures up images of very dry, highly technical manuals. Although reading such manuals is an option, it isn’t much fun, even for geeks. Fortunately, you can learn computer terminology quickly and easily, simply by using computer technology.
Use the Resources at Your Fingertips
You can start by using the “define” search parameter in Google. Simply type the following into the Google search box: define:unknown word. So if you heard someone use the acronym NIC, you would type define:NIC into Google, hit Enter and wait for the results. In very short order you would learn that NIC is short for network interface card, the integrated circuit board in your computer that lets it connect to the network. You will also discover that NIC is short for National Intelligence Council and network information center. Lesson: It is important to search through the results carefully instead of simply picking the first definition.
Another excellent source of definitions for technology terms is www.netlingo.com. The site features an alphabetical listing of terms, phrases and acronyms as well as a search capability. For those of you that would like to have a handier reference, you can purchase the dictionary of terms as an e-book or order the book NetLingo from Amazon.com. Another on-line resource is www.webopedia.com.
An alternative to these online resources would be to find a friendly IT professional and take him to lunch. Or better yet, take him out for a beer. He will get really animated and tell incredibly odd stories about technology and his favorite Star Wars character.
For those of you who find this to be an unacceptable method of learning technology terms, here is a collection of terms and their definitions to get you started.
DHCP n : dynamic host configuration protocol. This protocol provides IP addresses to computers that connect to a network. Most networks use DHCP to assign addresses, instead of manually configuring IP addresses on each system. If you want to continually connect to a particular device on a network, that device must have a static, or permanently assigned, IP address. If you use a dynamically assigned address through DHCP, you may not consistently be able to connect to the device.
giga•byte n : This term, like megabyte, terabyte and petabyte, is used to describe quantities of data on storage devices. Abbreviated GB. One GB is 1024MB, the equivalent of 694 floppy disks.
Security professionals need to understand that there are cheap, portable data storage devices that will store this much information and can be used to remove proprietary information from an organization.
geek n : someone who seems to inherently know and understand all IT-related terminology. Often used by unsophisticated computer users as a derogatory term. But geeks like being geeks, and highly technical geeks wear their geekiness as a badge of honor. As convergence progresses, physical security professionals should befriend one or two geeks to help them with the transition.
IP n : Internet Protocol. This protocol provides the ability to have data transferred from one network to another as it traverses the Internet. In the security industry, it is now common to hear the phrase IP camera or IP-addressable camera. This simply means that the camera uses the Internet Protocol and can be connected to either an internal network or the Internet. If one of these cameras is connected to the Internet, you will be able to monitor that camera from anywhere with Internet access.
Every device on the Internet is assigned an IP address that looks something like this: 22.214.171.124. The IP address is unique to that device. To put this in perspective, every time you visit a Web site, you are actually connecting to that site’s IP address. When you type something like www.ilovecheese.com into your browser, the browser looks up that site’s IP address—which in this case is 126.96.36.199—and then connects to the Web site.
To find your own computer’s IP address, simply visit a site like www.whatsmyip.org. If you are unable to connect to the Internet, you may need to identify whether your computer has been assigned a valid IP address. One way to check this is to click on Start and then Run. When the Run window opens, type “cmd” in the Open field. A command prompt will appear. At the command prompt, type “ipconfig” (without the quotes) and you will learn your IP address.
mal•ware n : the collective term used to describe all of the nasty pieces of software designed to plague computer systems. These include viruses, Trojans, spyware, adware, and rootkits.
mega•byte n : Equal to 1024KB. A standard floppy disk holds 1.44MB. Abbreviated MB. Understanding storage capacities is a requirement for security professionals who are switching to digital video systems. How much storage capacity is needed? If you use a high rate of compression to reduce your cost of storage, will you lose image quality? Storage terms such as these will become a standard part of the security professional’s vocabulary.
node n : any device on a network. Desktop PCs, servers and printers are all nodes. In an IP-based security system, any device on the system could be considered a node.
P2P adj : peer-to-peer. This is a type of networking that allows users to connect directly with each other in order to share files. Peer-to-peer networking has several implications for the security professional. One of the most important is that peer-to-peer applications can bypass poorly configured firewalls. Also, while P2P technologies are a unique way to share information, many users use them to illegally distribute copyrighted materials such as music, movies, software and games. Security professionals should be aware that they, their team members or family members could end up the target of a copyright infringement suit if these tools are being used on a regular basis.
In addition, many file-sharing programs may install spyware applications on systems. P2P applications include Kazaa, Morpheus, eDonkey, BitTorrent and Limewire. To determine if one of these applications is installed on your system, you can download the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America)-sponsored Parent File Scan from dtecnet.purestatic.com.
peta•byte n : Abbreviated PB. One online statistic states that you could store the equivalent of 500,000 hours of movies on 1PB—a volume of data that is difficult to comprehend.
port n : virtual points of connection in a computer system. This is a tough concept to grasp, even for some in the information technology industry. While “port” can be used to describe a physical connector that will accept a cable and allow data to be transmitted, when IT professionals speak about ports they are discussing virtual ports on a computer system.
In order for applications to communicate with other systems, they use a designated virtual port with which to accept communications. As an example, whenever you connect to a Web site, your computer is really communicating with Port 80 on the Web site’s host computer. Standard applications will use standard ports. When you use Outlook express to download mail from your ISP (Internet service provider), you are really connecting to Port 110 on your ISP’s mail server.
Why would physical security professionals need to understand the concept of ports? Physical security applications that run on standard operating systems will communicate via a recognized port. Troubleshooting communication issues between security devices may mean identifying what port is used by those devices and whether conflicts exist with other applications or devices.
RAID n : redundant array of independent disks. This is a collection of hard disks that are configured to function as one storage unit. Using multiple hard disks provides increased throughput, performance and fault tolerance. Properly configured RAID systems can provide some level of data protection, because if one hard drive fails, the data on the system will not be lost.
This does not mean that you should rely on your RAID as your only method of data protection. If the RAID contains mission-critical information or, in the case of digital video, material that might be used in litigation or criminal investigation, the data should be backed up on a regular basis. I once worked in an environment where two hard drives and a RAID controller card failed at the same time. Had a backup of the system not existed, all the data would have been lost.
RAM n : random access memory. This is the term used to describe a computer’s memory. RAM is often confused with the storage of data on a hard drive. RAM is accessed by the operating system in order to store data it needs when applications are open and running. It is never accessed directly by a user and is not designed to store user-created files. Information in RAM is lost when the computer is shut down.
root•kit n : pieces of code or software that are covertly installed on a system to allow malware to function undetected. Rootkits can be installed on any operating system. Fortunately, tools exist to help detect rootkits. One tool is Sysinternals Rootkit Revealer, which can be downloaded from
SQL n : structured query language. This is the language used by many systems to retrieve information from a database. Access control systems may store all of their information in an SQL database.
tera•byte n : A terabyte is 1024GB. This a great deal of information, and it is significant because it is believed that consumer computers will be shipping with terabyte hard drives in the not-too-distant future. Does this seem a little far fetched? It shouldn’t, since half-terabyte hard drives are currently available for less than $400. Abbreviated TB.
VPN n : virtual private network. A private, secure network that uses the public telecommunications infrastructure. A VPN allows for secure, remote connections to a network or system, without a direct connection between the devices. Many organizations allow telecommuters to connect to the corporate network by means of a VPN. A VPN is established using specific protocols that encrypt the data being transmitted.
John Mallery is a managing consultant for BKD, LLP, one of the 10 largest accounting firms in the United States. He works in the Forensics and Dispute Consulting unit and specializes in computer forensics. He is also a co-author of Hardening Network Security, which was recently published by McGraw-Hill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.