FIRE Project update


Readers will have noticed changes in the presentation of our news and information portals this year.

Since January, we have been testing various items of new software and modifications. This work is nearing conclusion.

When the FIRE (Flexible Information Retrieval Environment) Project started in 1995, it was staffed by volunteers from the Firetrench Consortium and operated as a community news and information service.

Initially, we based the system on technologies developed for specialist government agencies. Originally this was military command, control, and intelligence systems that were later adapted to power civil Emergency Operations Centers. One of our members proposed an experiment to adapt these technologies to the very different conditions found on the Internet at that time and which have evolved significantly over the last two decades. It was agreed to run this experiment within our Community Service Program that was originally set up to help members call on colleagues for help in various voluntary activities, aimed at serving our communities.

Since the project started the user base has increased considerably, our initial volunteer group has aged, and the frequency of hostile attack of many portals linked to the Internet has increased. Although our volunteers continue to work at the leading edge of certain technologies, aging inevitably thins out our numbers and reduces the number of hours some volunteers are able to donate.

We also have functionality that has never been fully activated and ideas that have yet to be tested. We wanted to take some of this further to a point where a new generation of volunteers could take it forward.

Late last year, we agreed to a program to meet the new challenges and continue to serve our growing readership.

There are two parts to the program.

We are keen to begin bringing new and younger volunteers into our teams but we recognize that some of the things we are happy to do to maintain the FIRE Project portals requires skills that not all potential new volunteers have and may require equipment that is different from equipment available to them . Therefore, part of the recent work has been aimed at trialling different types of software and this inevitably produces some differences in the way that information and news appears on our portals.

We appreciate the patience of our readers during this work.

The second part of the work was to look at the many types of hostile code that are in use on the Internet. The FIRE Project public access portals are only one part of the total system. The invisible part is well-protected from potential forms of attack, but the public access portals have deliberately been built with light protection in the interests of providing fast response times from the resources allocated for public access. At the same time, the public access portals have not required special access control mechnaisms to make reader access simple and easy. Unfortunately, the number of motives for attacking Internet assets have grown, particularly during the last five years, and now have strong commercial motivation. The number of volunteer hours required to remove hostile code, correct any damage resulting from these attacks, and keep our readers safe have absorbed a high proportion of available volunteer hours. Given that each volunteer is juggling donated time around busy day jobs and other personal commitments. It is necessary to attempt to reduce the load and allow volunteers to join the teams without having to be highly skilled system administrators.

We are now approaching the point where much of the work is concluding and we will be able to return to a familiar presentation of news and information.

Project Manager, FIRE Project

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