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Consumer Reports

Information security an expanding field | (KRT) One of the few areas of technology still expanding is doing so because of the three-headed Hydra of legislation, disaster and paranoia. It's information security - from disaster planning to hacker-proofing.

Chris Vennitti, regional manager of Robert Half Technologies, said that as companies rely more on the Internet and computer networks, the need for security professionals increases.

"Network security is a high-growth industry and remains critical within IT departments," he said. "As firms depend on their internal systems to share information with their organization and increasingly rely on remote or wireless access, there is a growing emphasis on safeguarding corporate systems. They're seeking networking security professionals with extensive experience in designing and monitoring secure networks that enable remote access to users."

David B. Morrow, managing principal of global security and privacy services at Electronic Data Systems, said Sept. 11 forced companies to consider off-site operations and business continuity. "9-11 was a catalyst, combined with a lot of other things like viruses and worms, that increased the visibility of security issues."

Morrow sees security, disaster recovery and business continuity as overlapping circles.

"Disaster recovery is concerned with what you do when a natural disaster occurs. How do you get the business up and running?" he said. Business continuity is closely related.

Kimberly A. Austin, an IT recruiter with ZSI in Dallas, said there had been a lot of buzz regarding security but little action - until recently.

"In the past few weeks, it's picked up a bit," she said.

Austin attributes the upswing to international events and funding cycles. She said companies finally may be getting the funding to purchase and implement products.

Although Austin said the red-hot spots for tech-based security operations are Washington and Northern Virginia, financial companies lead the way in the North Texas.

"So many people are making payments on the Internet that financial institutions need to make sure their networks are secure," she said.

Vennitti said financial services firms are seeking IT professionals to handle disaster recovery and storage functions, and to assist with financial reporting processes to ensure compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley act.

Another hot spot is with the government or government subcontractors. A search of government jobs at showed 121 openings for technical security personnel in the United States.

Morrow said many of the jobs are in government because of homeland security.

"Every year, the GAO 1/8General Accounting Office3/8 and Congress put out a report card of how bad security is, so there's a big push to do security work," he said.

A national initiative called e-government aims to implement and upgrade government networks and network security.

Geoffrey Orsak, associate dean for research and development at the Southern Methodist University school of engineering, said the government's chief information officer will have about $50 billion to spend on the initiative.

Education and certification matter to potential employers.

Morrow stresses the importance of a solid network background, certification in convergent network technologies, education or training in operating systems, and Unix and Linux experience. "A good technical underpinning is what people need," he said.

Morrow added that technical people should be able to speak in nontechnical terms.

"There is a need for real technical people to have an understanding of business processes and how to work with people - and who can explain why a password can't be two letters without a long, technical diatribe," he said.

SMU's advanced computer education center, an offshoot of the engineering department, offers computer technology certification programs and seminars.

Orsak said the potential growth of the security field is high.

"The industry needs lots of levels from certification to master's degrees and beyond," he said, "because security and commerce - really security and information - go hand in hand."

He used the oft-quoted comparison of the Internet to a highway.

"We don't expect highways to be safe, so we make cars safe," he said. In the same way, Orsak said, business and the government need people to make networks safe.

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services