Securing help files?

Subject: Securing help files?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 14:01:39 -0700

Jeff Barnes wondered <<Can you restrict access to topics within a
help system? I have been tasked to produce a help system for my
company's product, but have also been informed that a past stumbling
block to this project has been the reluctance of the customers to
release information to all of their customers.>>

I guess the first question I'd ask myself concerns the ethical and
liability implications that results from withholding information
from customers. If you're comfortable with the answers...

Just how tightly do you need to restrict access? The simplest way to
restrict access is to simply create a separate .hlp file for the
"confidential" information, and not code the links into the software.
The file exists for those who need it, but you can't get at it from
within the main help file or the software itself. The actual level of
security is minimal, because anyone knowledgable who's really
interested might go browsing until they find the "hidden" .hlp file,
then open it and merrily make free of your information. But the vast
majority of "general" users will never think this far ahead or know
how to find a hidden .hlp file buried several directories deep and
named something innocuous like dll.hlp or even readme.hlp <g>.

For that matter, if you're truly cynical, you might safely assume
that you could include the text within the main help file under
misleading keywords or in such a poorly cross-referenced manner
(e.g., no keywords) that nobody will ever find it without knowing the
information is there and how to get to it. From personal experience,
I'd speculate that much of Microsoft's online help for Word97 relies
on this principle.

You could probably use a form of conditional compilation (see the
archives under "hidden text" for ways to exclude text from the final
help file) to produce customized help files, some of which don't
include key information, but that's awkward and probably not very
bulletproof. I'm not aware of any way to lock out only certain
sections of a help file for certain users, but I'm by no means an
expert in this area. It would help if you could specify why the users
don't want to make all the information available, because that
defines the problem more closely (i.e., what is the nature of the
confidential information, and in what contexts might users want to
find it and have to be denied that privelege?).
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.

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