Many of us have seen situations where a person of considerable general competence accumulates duties – like a magnet. They attract responsibilities that in some cases go far afield from that which they’re supposed to be doing. Why does this occur?
It is often expedient – and perhaps even necessary – in an environment where other people are not held to appropriate standards of performance. Many times conscientious people volunteer to get the job done – whether it’s in their sphere or not – and deliver on whatever the task, whatever the assignment.
Neither Business nor IT should skew work that way. Don’t build up a position as a reaction to ‘negatives’ – and inadvertently create a hybrid position that is difficult to maintain in the longer term. A “Frankenstein” job position: Particularly for small-to-medium business (SMB) environments; take heed. Particularly as you grow, be absolutely certain that leadership and HR begin to put formal, tried-and-true (longstanding, effective, efficient) Position Descriptions and definitions in place.
Too frequently in the SMB environment, a position is cobbled together from many “parts” (disciplines, requirements and exigencies) without regard to best practice, known IT definitions, or long-term consequences. Many times Business goes right along – the ultimate stakeholders. For their part, HR often does not dictate adherence to appropriate definitions and distribution of duties. Nor does IT’s ultimate executive management do this. Frankly, oftentimes no one knows any better – or the organization deliberately ignores deviations in trying to soothe the pain of the moment.
Today’s Expediency – Tomorrow’s Emergency
Why would any organization or leader create positions of this nature? Organizations create hybrid, Frankenstein, positions in order to keep their staff small. The problem that arises is that, as the particular disciplines’ sophistications increase within the umbrella of the Frankenstein position, more and more time to manage those disparate disciplines is required. It becomes difficult to train up for the changes – akin to having a foot in two different boats, each beginning to diverge. It’s one thing to track the requirements and attend a schedule of training in remaining current in a particular field of endeavor, or fields closely related and supporting; it’s quite another challenge to remain current in a variety of disciplines – too often training is ignored or missed due to the sheer challenge in covering disparate environments. A point of diminishing return is quickly reached.
Consider too that when a Frankenstein is removed from the environment for one area of training, you are removing your support to the broader range of disciplines supported within that position. This is inefficient. You may put the entire gamut of disciplines at some measure of risk (whether this person is absent through training, or other loss).
Not everyone has to be a specialist, and there are always degrees of exception to everything. However, if you have extremely disparate disciplines under one job position, they will become increasingly difficult to straddle, the job will become increasingly difficult to do, increasingly difficult to populate, and there will be increasing difficulty in maintaining currency.
Where possible, and as work increases in your IT department, or as certain disciplines start to require more time, you’re better off creating a new, entry level position and hiring a relatively junior member to populate it. Step that person up over time as the position demands an increase in capability and responsibility. Alternatively, you can “hire up” slightly when there is turnover, and boost the position description to reflect new realities.
You not only risk stretching people too thin, and putting coverage at risk: Good people can become frustrated. When good people tire of covering too many disparate bases – or worse, other people’s bases – they’ll seek greener pastures where they can concentrate on an appropriate contribution on a better functioning team.
On this day: July 30, 1928 – George Eastman demonstrates the first color movie.
Today’s social networking environment is interesting from a variety of perspectives.
There’s the security aspect, of course. Folks have to be careful not to divulge too much information, such as:
“Hey! We’re on vacation in beautiful [insert location here]!”
This is the equivalent of a news bulletin to every nearby thief:
“Hi. We’re not in our home at the moment, and won’t be for the next couple weeks. Come on by, break in, and peruse our stuff – take what you like…”
In fact, it is often auto-responders that let criminals know that people are on vacation – and these can be very dangerous. Criminals survey the ‘net to find out which houses are empty, and auto-responders make for very efficient pairing of house-to-criminal. Think.
I remember the good old days when, as IT Director and later CIO, I’d walk out the door one afternoon and not touch a computer or send a message for two whole weeks. I might write a regular paper letter or two and post it while on vacation, but that was it. Today’s eCulture really has people tethered to their accounts and devices:
According to TechCrunch:
– 50% of all Americans are on Facebook – but only 37% have a passport.
– There are 750 million active users worldwide.
– There are 700 billion minutes per month spent.
– 58% of people are online while on vacation.
People feel pressure to stay “plugged in.” There’s pressure to e-mail, tweet, IM, update websites with vacation photos and blurbs…
This is a lot of people, and a lot of time spent. I would urge all users, family members, children, professional associates – all interconnected and linked people – to be very circumspect about what information you make public.
Also: Be very wary of what kinds of information new “friends” solicit. If you know someone exclusively through the domain of online social networking, e-mail, etc., be quite careful. Not to encourage spying, but take note of what children are doing too.
Also, consider private moments “breachable” – anything can happen, and it’s important to view every activity through a security prism. I counsel everyone with whom I work and deal: View all activity through security’s prism. Yes, that bears repeating – and often.
Rather than a burden, it becomes second nature – like fastening a seat belt or locking your door when exiting the house.
To “business” I say: Take stock of what you’re doing, saying, and exposing on social networking sites. Many businesses have official social networking sites and more are jumping in all the time. Employees often exit the “party” of their personal account, and bring the wrong voice to the work account. Know what employees are saying there; how they’re interacting with customers/clients and potential ones. Guard against mixing “friending” with “businessing” – have a social networking policy that comports with, and augments, the organization’s Communications Policy, Acceptable Use Policy, Security Policy, Content Management Policy, and any others.
If don’t have each of those, or if you’re a small org, that’s ok – just be certain to cover the bases in whatever general policies you have concerning employee activity and behavior. If you’re not sure what you have or need, find someone to help you and get liabilities and protections documented and dispersed throughout staff – via communication, training, and hopefully both.
For private individuals, for organizations, now is the time for these reviews, actions, and behaviors.
NP: John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard, original Impulse! 33rpm LP.
It seems that one major online breach after another occurs: One breach hardly has time to clear the news cycle before another occurs.
Here at The BTW alone we’ve discussed the following major data breaches over the course of just the last month or so: CitiGroup, Sony, and the Pentagon (the Pentagon!).
In talking with small and medium businesses (SMB) in particular, many aren’t sure where the main liability lies: Whether companies aren’t taking the proper precautions to protect data (which would be more of a human failing, whether error in use, poor planning of protections) – or – whether the problem is inherent in poor software, firewalls, authentications/encryptions, and so forth.
Internet security is paramount. It’s not “insurance,” however. Insurance is what you purchase in order to recover from a bad outcome, if one happens. Internet security, however, is the protections that prevent a bad outcome from happening in the first place.
Speaking of the internet: Many SMBs aren’t fully aware of what Cloud computing is – if they’re aware at all – even when utilizing it! Therefore, when migrating storage, process, access, etc., in either discreet ways or as holistic solutions, security is often a back-of-the-envelope consideration. This is a huge mistake.
Let’s face it: Even large enterprises – the most “sophisticated” (we hope) environments – are struggling with security and poor outcomes. For SMB, it’s a real challenge: Many SMBs don’t know how to define what the Cloud is. And yet, according to Trend Micro, many are using cloud-based applications for such things as human resource management, or customer relationship management (CRM) – “…but don’t associate those apps with cloud computing”, according to Ian Gordon, Trend Micro Canada’s marketing and channel chief.
One has to wonder what their vendors are telling them when selling and instituting these “solutions” if the customer doesn’t even understand what they’re buying. And security? How do you secure something you can’t articulate in the simplest of terms? How do you assess what your vendor is doing?
Food for thought: If you’re “IT,” be certain you tell your business stakeholders exactly what is being implemented and what the advantages, and any liabilities, may be. Get full understanding and approval.
If you’re “Business,” understand the technology that you own, pay for, and use. It’s not that difficult to have a pragmatic understanding for where things reside, what business value they deliver, and what special accommodations must be made in securing and progressing the environment.
Get on it.
NP: Jive Samba, Cannonball Adderley, jazz24.org
It’s interesting to me that the European Union’s European Commission is considering some standard rules for breach notification. These rules would govern how companies make notification to stakeholders, and also govern their behavior throughout breach fallouts.
These “practical rules,” are being crafted from solicited input from the public, and also from national data protection authorities, as well as from consumer protection organizations. In the wake of several high-profile breaches, it’s an understandable consideration (see several of my prior posts regarding breaches).
As stated by Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital agenda commissioner, “The duty to notify of data breaches is an important part of the new EU telecoms rules. But we need consistency across the EU so businesses don’t have to deal with a complicated range of different national schemes. I want to provide a level playing field, with certainty for consumers and practical solutions for businesses.”
If transparency is key, as one of the stated goals, then I wonder why no mention of government? What of government breaches? Is there the same timely notification requirement for various agencies? In terms of stakeholders’ wellbeing, the government harbors extraordinarily critical content regarding citizens and their interests.
It’s of further interest to me that many “experts” feel that breaches will be an ongoing problem, by virtue of the number of private companies, banks, agencies, etc., that gather and store ever-more personal and empirical data about customers, clients, patients, and so on.
I rather agree that breaches will be an ongoing problem – but not due to an expansion of data stores – that is, more targets. Breaches will occur largely through careless harbor; poor security security practices, lagging security initiatives, and that most venerable and vexing problem: human error.
Joe McNamee, the head of European Digital Rights, says: “It is precisely because there will inevitably be breaches that rules are needed to ensure that citizens are informed and that companies have compelling reasons to minimize the data they collect and maximize their internal security,” he noted.
I rather think that breaches can be thwarted – with proper security protocols, proactive updating of environments to best security features and practices, sound training of personnel, and ever better encryption techniques.
Meantime: I’m back to government: What is their duty in notification of breached agencies and harbored data? Nothing I’ve read has indicated government’s oversight of… government.
I’ll also be curious to see what’s mounted, or attempted, in terms of government control here in the United States.
I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on “breach notification laws”?
Stay safe out there.
NP: Elsa, Cannonball Adderley, jazz24.org
The Pentagon is supposedly mounting a new cyber security initiative following the loss of 24,000 files. They were actually stolen from a defense contractor but, as in any organization, the organization is ultimately responsible for the actions and activities of all subordinate elements: contractors; vendors; solutions partners; individuals.
I also use the word “loss” for a very important reason: Whether the Pentagon still has copies of the breached, stolen, files or not – they are lost in the sense that their exclusivity, their protection, and their discretion has been stolen.
The files truly are not what they once were – and that is theft and loss.
Here in the BTW, we often speak of The Responsible Forward Edge (RFE). It’s a proactive, aggressive, forward posture regarding survey of risk, mounted protections, and the comport with best business/IT practices. Best practices means constantly updated practices in accordance with evolving threats and the evolving security measures to counter them.
The responsible organization does this pragmatically, for sure: There’s budget to consider. Other resources factor too: time, available personnel for implementations and support, etc. But today, there simply has to be a schedule of survey of liabilities – even if none seem to exist today, tomorrow they will: Our environment is not static, and the number and nature of threats are not static either.
What makes the Pentagon’s hack so dismaying is that “foreign intruders” made the theft. According to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, terabytes of data have been stolen over the past decade, involving “our most sensitive systems, including aircraft avionics, surveillance technologies, satellite communications systems and network security protocols.”
In this case, Lynn didn’t specify a country for the attack, or even whether it was a country versus the work of simple criminal hackers. However, a large part of the Pentagon’s new cyber security initiative is to share classified threat intelligence between defense companies. Hmmm… someone couldn’t have thought to do that a decade ago?
This should have been routine. A lesson for all organizations is to get your people thinking, imagining, and working together. Organizations should have, at a minimum, quarterly meetings with a significant block of time dedicated to security. Employees, security oriented and otherwise, should volunteer what they’ve heard regarding threats, solutions, other outcomes. Qualified personnel can vet ideas and threats – but it’s a nice exposure, and gets the organization thinking. Remember too to solicit and share ideas between regional offices, and between all partnering-organizations.
At the same time, IT can warn of social networking liabilities, breach conditions to avoid, and so forth; they can reinforce Acceptable Use, Content, Security, and other policies.
On this day, July 16th: In 1926, National Geographic takes the first natural-color undersea photos.
An interesting thing happened to me on the way back from my mailbox the other day.
But first: I had a debit card that was getting increasingly difficult to use. The magnetic stripe on the back had a scratch on it, and I often had to swipe it three or four times to get it to read. So, I called the bank and requested a new one. I haven’t had to replace a card in a long, long time. I figured the new one would come with instructions to call a number for “activation.”
Interestingly (well, at least to me), when the card showed up, the accompanying letter made no mention of any need for activation. It did take care to tell me the card could be used at “millions of Visa ® merchant locations.” It talked about “free access to cash” at qualifying ATMs. Further, the letter was so helpful in telling any recipient that $300 cash was available each day, as was $1,500 in purchases.
Representing the most help, perhaps (particularly for thieves), was this informative sticker on the card itself! [Capitalization is exactly as on the sticker] –
This debit card works at all Visa merchant locations.
Press the CREDIT button and DO NOT INPUT YOUR PIN.
Funds will be deducted from your checking account
and there will be no transaction fee.
It really is nice not to have to fuss with a PIN. But here, we’re at a point of diminishing return: By making the card easier to use for the consumer, we’re also opening a very insecure avenue, yielding a breach potential: Unauthorized use of the card for THEFT. [Those caps are all mine].
The letter had a 1-800 customer service number and I called it. I wanted to confirm that the card was ready to use, absent any proactive activation on my part. The representative confirmed two things: 1) The card was ready to use, and 2) that, upon my direct query, the card indeed had been ready all along, as delivered to my mailbox.
Couple worrisome things here. There have been times, not too often but more than a few, where my neighbor’s mail has been delivered to my mailbox. In fact, this has happened at several addresses I’ve had over the years. I’m sure there has been mail of mine delivered elsewhere – in fact, I remember people walking stuff over here and there.
In the event this card had been placed in the wrong mailbox, there is the possibility that someone would be tempted to take the card and use it. The envelopes for these cards do not disguise the fact that they contain a card – you can readily feel a card just by picking up the envelope. Consider too that someone could tear an envelope open without noticing it’s meant for someone else (in fact, I’ve done it). Once open, there’s a nice sticker advertising the fact that you hold free money in your hand.
Of course, with all of the surveillance systems today, it would be distinctly unwise to use someone else’s card without authorization. But that doesn’t preclude kids, or stupid people, or even someone adopting a disguise and walking up to a machine, from gaining some ready cash… from… you.
I don’t like it. What do you think? Aren’t we supposed to be getting tighter as regards security?
Also, keep this in mind: Removing the need to call and authorize/activate a card takes a bit of a burden off the financial institution. But… presumably any burden regarding security is something a bank is precisely supposed to be offering.
Call it a service. :^ )
On this day: In 1836, U.S. Patent #1 is granted for locomotive wheels (after 9,957 unnumbered patents).
Does your right to remain silent, as protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, extend to encryption on a personal laptop?
It’s an interesting subject, and one that might be settled soon – by the Supreme Court. A woman accused of, and being prosecuted for, a mortgage scam in Colorado is under pressure to disclose her passphrase for decrypting her laptop, which police found in her bedroom upon the raid of her home – she has refused.
The Obama administration is asking a federal judge to order the defendant, Ms. Ramona Fricosu, to decrypt the laptop. As a slight aside, prosecutors don’t want the passphrase itself. They want Ms. Fricosu to simply type it in, and make the files available in their decrypted form. This may seem a minor point, but it does remove any wrinkles that may be encountered upon court rulings that make divulgence of the passphrase itself a protected item within the Fifth Amendment’s protections.
At the heart of the matter is whether a defendant can be compelled to serve up something from the privacy of their mind: Other courts have ruled that protections extend there. Prosecutor’s, however, liken passphrases to physical keys, and defendants can be made to produce keys to safes, for example. It’s an interesting situation.
One could make the argument that forcing a defendant to divulge a passphrase (or password, encryption keys, etc.) enters the realm of breaking protections against self-incrimination. While the Supreme Court has not yet ruled in matters such as these, lower courts have – and their rulings have, essentially, gone both ways: In one case stating that an individual did not have a Fifth Amendment right to keep files encrypted; in the other, that the defendant did – thus “protecting his invocation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination.”
Ms. Fricosu is charged with money laundering, wire fraud, and bank fraud in an alleged attempt to gain titles to homes via falsified court documents. She’s facing up to 30 years or more in prison.
For the rest of us, with – hopefully – more mundane privacy concerns, we can understand a desire to keep business secrets, diaries, and privileged communications from friends and associates private.
For us, and most definitely for business, the case does bear watching.
On this day: July 12, 1962, the Rolling Stones make their first public appearance (Marquee Club, London).
According to a top Homeland Security official, testifying before a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, computer software and hardware is being imported to the United States pre-loaded with security-defeats and spyware.
Greg Schaffer is Acting Deputy Undersecretary for National Protection and Programs at the Department of Homeland Security (at least he’s not the temporary acting deputy under… there are those too).
Schaffer made a disturbing statement in response to a query by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who first took care to state “the issue of software infrastructure (and) hardware built overseas with items embedded in them already by the time they get to the United States … poses, obviously, security and intellectual property risks.”
Rep. Chaffetz then asked, “A) Is this happening, Mr. Schaffer? And, B) What are we going to do to fight back against this?”
After a moment’s obfuscation on the part of Schaffer, the representative sharpened his query, “Are you aware of any component software (or) hardware coming to the United States of America that already have security risks embedded into those components?”
Schaffer: “I am aware that there have been instances where that has happened.”
The panel is considering a government proposal to tighten controls on imported computer equipment for use by critical government and communications infrastructure.*
It would seem to me that that area would already have the highest possible standards. How many times have we stated here that protections must lead threats, not lag, and that a proactive, provocative security awareness is necessary?
The hearing didn’t tease out whether imported equipment included consumer-grade technical components and software like retail media, laptops, desktops, consoles, etc. However, if it’s determined that there’s a necessity to survey those imports, watch for consumer-grade items to jump in price, as cost of inspection and survey gets added to the bill.
* Meantime, the government isn’t doing everything possible to inspect and screen their own components? In the age of botnets, key-logging software, password discovery mechanisms, encryption-busting and other software that defeats and disables existing security programs, there’s no excuse. The missing existence of a progressive, matching, security posture and aggressive monitoring and survey/scrub for malfeasance is unaffordable.
Further, when an aggressive program is in place, that program is affordable because there is no cold-start mount in the face of extreme security perils: It’s kinda like riding a bike uphill; you get a good start on the stretch, and are then able to pedal into the hill… eventually, you get back on level ground and your effort eases – but you don’t relax – you’re readying for the next hill. However, if you start on the hill, it’s tough to get going.
What has the government been doing if it is just now acknowledging import of infected components? And… further, it is just now considering more stringent controls? It’s past time to pedal faster.
For your environment: True security demands an aggressive posture. Be certain to have the right mind-set in your organization. Review the security-themed posts here as necessary.
On this day: July 11th, 1798 Congress creates the Marine Corps.
From Morgan Stanley comes word that two unencrypted CDs have gone missing. They were sent, and actually delivered – to a government tax office; the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
However, apparently the package containing the CDs has either gone missing from the desk of the recipient – or – the package arrived at the desk, seemingly intact, but did not contain the expected CDs… depending on what article you read. One thing seems fairly certain, being that Morgan Stanley has issued an apology and warning: The two CDs were sent, did not reach the intended recipient, and are missing.
The CDs are password protected, but that’s mere child’s play these days for anyone who wants to break a password. The idea that these sensitive discs, by virtue of very sensitive data, were not encrypted is quite hard to believe. Someone was either too lazy to follow a protocol and perform the encryption, or – worse, Morgan Stanley has lax policy and standards regarding encryption and protection of data.
If one person is remiss that’s – literally – one thing. That person can be disciplined, trained, or fired. However, if there’s lagging policy and standards regarding data protection, handling (certified mail anyone? Secure courier service?… etc.), and encryption – then that’s indicative of a systemic, organizational, fall down. It’s time for a complete survey of business and IT practices, training programs, and day-to-day standards and comprehensions at Morgan Stanley.
The bank has had to notify customers that, at the least, names, addresses, earned income on investments, and tax ID numbers may be compromised. Social security numbers frequently serve as tax ID numbers, and Morgan Stanley has offered a year of credit monitoring services for clients whose SSNs were exposed.
Morgan Stanley was notified on June 8th that the CDs were missing. An exhaustive search was made through all facilities the CDs and associated package passed through – however, it wasn’t until June 24th that Morgan Stanley notified customers – via mail.
Remember: Your number one asset is your reputation… your next asset is your customers. Without those, your employees don’t have much reason to show up. Take a look at your business processes and associated security – now.
On this day: On July 6th, 1924, the first photograph was sent across the Atlantic by radio, from the US to England.
Google has reported it gave user information to the Federal Government 94% of the time the government requested it.
These requests are allegedly parts of criminal investigations. Still, it raises the question: Does government have the right to demand information from a private company?
Yes, it does in any of three ways:
1. A grand jury can send a subpoena to a company.
2. A Federal judge can sign a search warrant; an FBI agent delivers it to the company.
3. An FBI agent, or any Federal agent, may write his or her own search warrant; authorizing himself or herself to search the company.
This may be of interest to some readers here. In fact, it should be of interest to all readers – and in particular, to business stakeholders. I define “business stakeholder” very broadly: From a temporary worker at a desk for a day, to the senior executive class, and everybody in between.
In other words, if you’re under a business’ roof, doing business on business’ behalf, you’d better exercise care in what you’re doing:
You must secure and protect business reputation;
you must secure and protect your own.
Remember this: Business’ #1 asset is not “our people” – as business so often likes to say: “Our number one asset is our people.” No. Business’ #1 asset is its reputation: Lose that, and your people won’t have a place to work.
Can Google give private info about what you’ve Googled to the Federal Government without you knowing it? Well, they have been. Here’s the number of Google’s deliveries to government requests, July through December 2010:
(Source: Fox News)
Government is starting to peer into many of the things were doing, potentially invading our privacy. Is government avoiding the 4th amendment, which protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure, by going to a private company? Further, what are the privacy and business implications when the government asks an enterprise such as Google for employee activities when under any business’ roof, on business time?
Does any consumer or business (the user of Google’s services) have an “unwritten contract” that Google will keep Google searches to themselves?
The answer is: No. There is no written, or unwritten, guarantee of discretion, and no promissory estopple. Thus, for individual and business alike, there are serious issues and vulnerabilities. What are Google’s standards for giving information to the government? Do they just cave in to requests? Do they have their internal lawyers call the government and qualify these requests to any degree? What are the criteria for denial or acquiescence?
In some ways, the government is asking the private sector to act as their… spy, essentially.
This is why, in the age of eDiscovery, it is essential for businesses, large and small, to have robust and clearly understood Acceptable Use policies. Security policies. Content Management policies. Further, make certain that employees understand and adhere to policies – and that they know the consequences for misuse of content, search engines, and other business resources.
Stay safe out there.
NP: Don’t Worry About Me, Sachal Vasandani