Josh Work Articles UMCN Apr01/90 New Snack Facilities Double as Security Service

As part of its continuing effort to expand services at the Campus Computing Sites, ITD plans to install new snack facilities at the Angell Hall Courtyard, NUBS, and UNYN. Special magnetic hot plates will be available for users who want to heat up lunches purchased on the premises. As an attractive safety feature, the plates will not be hot to the touch, since they will only heat metal. The hot plates should be ideal for preparing soups and similar luncheon foods. In addition to food preparation, however, the hot plates will also provide a security feature that many users may find helpful. Because they generate powerful magnetic fields, the hot plates can be used to completely erase the information on magnetic media such as floppy disks and magnetic tape.

Protecting Sensitive Information. "People who are new to computers often don't realize that the information in a file doesn't immediately go away when you erase it," explains ITD consultant Ganz Wesenlos, who is overseeing the Hot Plate Security Project. "Ordinarily, the operating system just marks the file as deleted, and releases the disk space it occupied for some other use. It is because data is not immediately erased that unerase programs can do their job. But what if your information is highly sensitive, and you want to eliminate any possibility of someone else seeing it? These days, tools are available that can often recover information even if you reformat [or reinitialize] a disk." One possible solution is software that writes a series of zeros or other characters to the entire disk or tape. Another is a bulk eraser, essentially a strong magnet that wipes out all information. The hot plates are similar to bulk erasers and can be used for that purpose.

"Of course, if you want to keep the information you're storing on a floppy, you will not want to allow it anywhere close to these hot plates," Wesenlos continues. "We have the old joke about the user who pinned a floppy to a cabinet with a refrigerator magnet, and then wondered why the programs on it didn't work. People should also be aware that metal objects other than magnets sometimes pick up magnetism. Ordinary scissors are a common culprit." As a final caution, Wesenlos warns users to be careful when using the hot plates to destroy sensitive data. "You don't need to leave a floppy disk in the magnetic field for more than a second. Remember, these fields make metal hot, and the metal can heat anything it touches. You wouldn't want to burn your fingers, and if the plastic parts of a floppy disk melt all over a hot plate, you may have to buy us a new one." The snack facilities are expected to open on April 1.



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Last update Apr01/08 by Josh Simon (<jss@clock.org>).