Google Wave rolls in with familiar tech concerns

Agencies might not want to dive into Google Wave yet because of security concerns

When Google released 100,000 Wave invitations Sept. 30, the scramble to score an invitation resembled the mad dash for a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka's factory in Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." 

However, for early users, the opening of the Google Wave gates led to disappointment. Without a bunch of friends or colleagues to wave with, entering Google Wave is like showing up at Wonka's chocolate factory and finding an empty warehouse. The silence is deafening.

For federal agencies, Google Wave follows in the footsteps of other ballyhooed technologies. Optimists say the application could be the missing link in the evolution of information sharing, while pessimists worry that it will open new security and privacy holes. They both have a point.

Google Wave lets users instantaneously communicate and share information. While someone enters the latest information on a subject, a colleague could add a widget that creates a map to depict that data. And those users don't even need to speak the same language.

Google Wave provides a bunch of slick tools intended to produce more dynamic conversations. For example, Translatey is an extension that automatically translates Wave conversations into other languages, according to "Intellitics," a blog run by Tim Bonnemann, who founded Intellitics as a forum to observe government transparency and electronic citizen participation. "With tools like these Wave extensions, a good deal of multilanguage dialogue might become feasible if the help of an interpreter is not required. One could use Wave for the 80 percent where the quality a translation bot provides is good enough and use interpreters only for the other 20 percent."

However, agencies might not want to dive into Google Wave yet because of security concerns, notes Chad Perrin of "TechRepublic." Private communications should be restricted to more traditional channels, such as e-mail, until developers identify and resolve the security implications of Google Wave or similar services, he wrote.

Anticipating such worries, Google's developers are touting Google Wave's fundamental security ingredients. Google Wave, writes Munir Kotadia of Secure Computing magazine, "has been designed to avoid common security issues associated with traditional e-mail because it contains a 'sprinkle of crypto fairy dust'." Really, they mean it. Greg D'Alesandre, Google Wave's product manager, told Kotadia that "Wave has been built with two levels of security designed to stop criminals exploiting the technology by spoofing another account — pretending to be someone they are not — or by sniffing Wave traffic while it is traveling between users."

Google Wave appears to jibe with the Obama administration's push for more transparency and better information sharing. Some government employees are brainstorming uses for Google Wave on a Facebook page, which has more than 300 members. If agencies and Google open a dialog, they might find a way to add Wave features to existing projects, such as the intelligence community's "Intellipedia," to facilitate faster and more robust intelligence gathering and sharing.

And that might give Google Wave a golden ticket to agencies' information technology projects.

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