Some terms pertaining to Internet security may sound foreign now, but so did the terms Internet and World Wide Web a few years ago.
And remember facsimile? Today that's the awkward-sounding original term for the indispensable device we all know as a fax.
Some security terms can be left for later-daunting concepts such as secure socket layers, segmented data packets, kerberos and RSA vs. DES standards. But the following terms may soon become as commonly underst ood as cell-phone cloning.
Cryptography Most security for the Internet is based on cryptography, the ability to send signals without anyone knowing the contents except those who are granted both the right to know and the means to decipher the message.
Encryption is one important form of cryptography. It uses mathematical formulas to turn messages into numerical code before going onto the Internet and then to change the code back to meaningful information at the destination.
The way Wells Fargo explains it to its on-line banking customers is, "Your account information will read as gibberish to all but you and the bank.'
The formulas for encrypting the message, called keys, have so many bi llions of possible combinations that cracking the code "would be a daunting, almost impossible task for unauthorized intruders," according to Wells Fargo.
Digital signaturesLike the signature card in a bank, unique codes can be tr ansmitted over the Internet to check the authenticity of sender and receiver.
In that process, the security features of each party's computer are employed to request an electronic key that verifies identity. No message can be completed unless that singular identity is confirmed by a unique numerical signature.
The process also can act as a physician's approval of record summaries and medical orders.
Firewalls A sophisticated software/hardware combination, the fi rewall stops unauthorized messages from the outside world, allowing only those messages approved in advance. It also keeps insiders from using the Internet for unauthorized purposes.
The technology has matured just recently, said Ge off Turner of Ernst & Young, and a certification process has been initiated by the National Computer Security Association to help buyers make standard comparisons.
Vendors are making firewalls more flexible, allowing elaborate programming of access to selected data depending on the clearance of the person requesting information.
But healthcare organizations also have to keep on top of other possible routes into the computer system that could bypass the main en trance, said Jim Adams, principal with Gartner Group, a Stamford, Conn.-based firm that researches information technology trends and challenges. If the system isn't properly configured, Adams said, "it's like putting a heavy metal door on your home and leaving windows open."