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
Today’s article follows on to yesterday’s Part I, where we discussed a relatively new company, Social Intelligence Corporation (SIC), and it’s offering of services to employers. Please see that if you haven’t already.
Someone made a great point (credit Steve Doocy of Fox News): What if you take a picture today of you hanging out with a friend, post it to a social networking account – and that friend becomes a felon in the future? Is SIC going to deliver a future report to a prospective employer, stating that you associate with known felons?
Max Drucker, CEO of SIC, answered the question as a definite: “Probably not.” That’s hardly reassuring, although he does say that employers are primarily interested in the following categories for screening applicants:
– Racist remarks
– Clearly illegal activity such as drug use
– Sexually explicit photos and videos
– Flagrant displays of weapons or bombs
“Those are the things we look for, we don’t look for associations.” But what will Mr. Drucker and SIC deliver in the event employers DO ask for associations? I can’t say with certainty, but I know this: SIC is in business to deliver a service. That service is, essentially, a background check on potential employees. SIC, and any service company, stays in business by filling the service expectations of clients – here, employers. When employers start asking for “known associations,” companies like SIC are likely to deliver.
Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, makes several interesting points. He notes that, at present, human beings at SIC are making nuanced, human, judgments about content and those people who generate it – people, in this context, who are prospective employees. However, it won’t be long before competitor companies seek to deliver this service to employers faster, better (in competitors’ minds), and cheaper – and this will involve… automation. Mr. Fertik’s points are well taken.
Here’s my take: Automation frequently delivers a “dumb” report regarding content. That is, there is no nuance, no judgment; there is lack of balance, and frequently a view to content that is a 180 degree diametric opposite of what that content might truly represent in its full context, outside the constricting view of a static report.
I made the point yesterday, in Part I, that someone might join an online group for purpose of monitoring; for example, a student might even join a hate site for purpose of a school report on such activities.
Consider what SIC would make of that…
NP: Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West – John Lewis/Jim Hall – Jazz24.org
We’ve discussed online social networking peril here at length, but there is now a new wrinkle.
In addition to keeping work accounts and personal accounts straight, and taking great care not to mix “friending” with “businessing,” employees now must contend with the Social Intelligence Corporation.
What is the Social Intelligence Corporation (SIC) and its allied mission? Nothing short of supplying potential employers with a comprehensive report of what you’ve been doing through social networking (and anything else online): The good, the bad, and that which will get you screened from any hope of working for whatever company to which you’re applying.
As a year-old startup, SIC rakes social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, et al, even blogs, and presents anything suspect to the employing agent: Again, perhaps a company that is considering you for employment. You mail a resume, you get a call, you interview – and at some point in the process – perhaps even upon receipt of the resume – the company engages SIC and requests your online history.
It’s hard to know if SIC is sick, or just the next step in employers’ due diligence and arsenal of tools in arriving at best employees and staffs. It does seem a little sinister that employers, and SIC, are raking the relative party of social networking in assessing candidates. I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted potential employers at some of my house parties back in the day – ya know what I mean? We’ve already noted that employers have been using Google to look up names and online presence of potential employees. This takes it to a whole ‘nother level.
Consider the case of one person: They merely joined a Facebook group called “I shouldn’t have to press ‘1’ for English. We’re in the United States. Learn the language.” Apparently, the SIC’s software identified the individual as having “…other obvious racist leaning or proclivities” merely through association. Seems a bit heavy. And what of someone’s membership whereby they’re merely monitoring such a group?
Just recently, the Federal Trade Commission suspended an investigation of SIC, by virtue of the fact that it appears to comply, for now, with the Fair Credit Reporting Act: In this case, SIC must be certain that clients (companies, organizations) advise applicants when something deleterious turns up on a report, with subsequent negative impact to potential employment with that employer.
So… beware. We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Stay safe out there.
NP: Hungaria, Bireli Lagrene
From Europe comes incredible news, as reported by Juniper Networks. Amazingly, 84% of businesses have experienced at least one data breach in the past year.
Eighty-four percent. Huh. Well, at least 16% are doing something right.
But wait – I think we can safely assume that a good many of those are surviving on dumb luck. And, as stated here in The Weave, something bad can be transpiring at this very moment, with the organization as yet being unawares that a harming event or circumstance’s yield is just around the corner.
According to Juniper’s survey of 1406 IT folks, 31% indicated an increase in the frequency of breaches, and 76% report that attacks have become potentially more damaging or harder to prevent, due in part to difficulty in prevention.
Of particular concern are mobile devices such as smart phones and laptops. These privately owned elements are difficult to manage, being that they’re outside the usual realm of the enterprise’s policies and control. In fact, 34% of those responding attributed breaches to laptops.
It can’t be emphasized enough: Organizations need to make immediate identification of all outside access to the enterprise environment. Once surveyed, a policy and plan set must be drafted; a respective definition for, 1) Allowed access, acceptable use, required security features and protections – 2) paired with a plan to roll out training, ongoing user awareness, and those security features that must be harbored and adhered to at all times by anyone accessing from outside.
Anything short of this is folly. The organization is begging for a catastrophic breach of systems, data and reputation. Things are only going to get more challenging:
– Threats are going to harbor more power to harm
– Threats are going to increase in number
– Threats are going to stream into the organization’s face at an accelerating rate.
Get ahead of the curve now. Survey all security policies and measures. Do some research. Determine your level of affordability in terms of time, attention, and resources, vis-à-vis acceptable risk.
What is “acceptable risk”? Only your organization is going to know that for your organization. Engage business stakeholders and IT governance, hammer out the accepted plan, and then execute.
Get this on the table, and get it going.
NP: You’ll Never Know, Red Garland
Today, employee error and otherwise casual approaches to security is causing serious harm to a great many organizations – and to employees themselves.
Bad outcomes from abuse of systems and content abound. Employees have been busted for surfing porn, for e-mailing clients with unflattering characterizations of inside-business, for divulging sensitive business secrets and details, for defaming co-workers, for wasting business time with all manner of personal business – the list goes on…
Recognize that whatever you do is basically captured for review by appropriate organizational authorities. Further, the discipline of eDiscovery now mines data and coughs it up, splaying it for the world to see. Deleting content is of little use: Data is merely flagged as overwritable –disc space is marked as being open when needed for new content; but until it is overwritten, that data is retrievable with tools.
Further, even when data is eventually overwritten in this regard, it’s likely still available on backup media, yet gathered there before it was overwritten in the active environment, and now harbored for virtually an infinite review.
Browser histories are also available this way. Don’t count on their deletion as being any kind of protection. In the realm of data, and to be safe, assume everything is permanently available for review and use.
At many orgs, there’s no lack of training – and there’s no lack of associated policies: Acceptable Use, Content Management, a general Security policy; all regarding protection of systems, data, e-mail guidance, internet access and allowable use, etc.
There are warnings about use of systems for personal use, with thresholds of defined abuse. In other words, and in an obvious example, no one begrudges someone receiving a modest amount of personal e-mail through the “work system,” with the occasioned print of something or other. But too much use of work resources for the conduct of personal affairs is not at all prudent.
But whether quarterly, semi-annually, or annually, various training is often treated as an inconvenient interruption to business. Many employees regard it as either a nuisance, or a goof-off day.
But the real objective as concerns security is not training in and of itself – nor any particular measure, or test, of employee adherence to goals and values at some pinpoint moment in time. Rather, the objective is an ongoing, seamless, and active security awareness on the part of employees (as supported by regularized training and updates – nothing remains the same). Awareness of what not to do, and what to do.
The only real way to maintain awareness and protection is to instill a valid eCulture at your place of business. eCulture comprises many things, and we’ll examine more in coming posts, but a couple warnings and tenets apply:
– In the realm of risk, unmanaged possibilities become probabilities
– All activity in the truly modern organization is viewed through security’s prism
In fact, a useful way of embedding a modern security awareness, in support of eCulture principles, is to tell employees they must wear “security glasses” – these “glasses” force the preeminent consideration – security – for every action and activity undertaken by individual and organization alike.
All sorts of useful examples and analogies can be created, but what’s worked for me, quite well, is to counsel organizations to put on their security glasses, with lens of security prisms.
Employees quickly learn to view everything through that security prism: Exercising safe and best practices.
The “glasses” (with signage, reminders, etc.) force awareness. It is simple… and powerful.
On this day: In 1893, the first Ferris wheel premiered at the Chicago Columbian Exposition
[Note: When referring to “Business” here, with a capital “B,” we’re referring to business people and associated business leadership. When employing a small “b,” we mean “the business” such as business practice…]
Frequently, in the course of my travels and counsel, I hear from Business: Our IT team just doesn’t get it. We discuss and deliver requirements in good faith, but it’s still a struggle getting what we want and need in order to conduct sound business. IT constantly asks for more money, and even so, we don’t see a direct correlation to better fits with the dispense of more dollars…
As frequently, I hear the IT side: Business makes unreasonable demands, they “don’t get it,” they ask the impossible. The impossible includes demands for robust solutions and supports on miniscule budgets (in IT’s estimation), demands for programs that support the most hapless users, programs that make business “mistake proof” (here, even I must say – this is not possible, of course), and naturally there’s always that most venerable of complaints: They want everything immediately.
Something’s got to give, and you know what I say? I say it’s… IT. Why? IT is a service endeavor. IT wouldn’t have anything to do without a business to support. Even a tech company has a business element, and a technical, IT, element.
But also, in a world with no perfect parity, something’s got to give in – and again, that’s IT. But that doesn’t mean that IT is a doormat. A good IT leader, and associated department, knows how to manage Business – and “the” business of getting things done and into service.
It is IT’s job to figure out what Business wants and certainly what Business needs – by listening, communicating, digging – by engaging. If IT comes away from the table without all requirements, exposure of needs, and understanding of Business expectations, then IT has to go back in and get these things. Sometimes it can be difficult, and it’s going to require tact and patience. However, for best success, you have to smash ambiguity. Smash it with a velvet hammer, though. As difficult as it may be to pin Business down, it will be far more painful in the long run if you don’t.
Only a qualified understanding of business will allow IT to partner on the alignment of support to business. Remember that, in addition to IT’s place at the planning and execution tables, IT can and must actively survey business. Ask Business what it wants! The simple survey will yield needs from the bottom of the organization on up. Depending on your organization’s size, you will decide whether to issue a survey on a regularized basis, or to do a survey based on other triggers. It’s always wise to survey the organization prior to large-scale change. It’s also good to survey where the organization is in terms of level of comfort with present business tools, and to assess training needs. IT can then sit down with supervisors and business managers to help plan strategies and best progressions.
Realize that if you’ve established credibility, and achieved sanction in the past, you stand your best chances for success. If you’re in a challenging business environment, and you feel there’s a gap in understanding on Business’ part, with possible negative outcomes to the organization, then concentrate on “doing what you can do.” Communicate concerns to the appropriate level. Be decent throughout: It’s your reputation – your own personal and professional #1 asset – maintain it.
Therefore, be certain to go through channels, and don’t skip levels of authority. At any level where there’s a major sticking point, advise the necessary parties that you’d like to involve the next higher authority. Communication is key.
If you, as an IT person, hit a wall with a concern, then your duty is to carefully go on record with your view of potential negative outcomes. You’ve done what you can. The point here is that IT must tactfully come back to the table, again and yes again, in the good faith, fully informed, and engagement-ready posture that is imperative in a professional IT team. Today, there are security liabilities that simply make “going along to get along” an unwise practice in delivering the necessary business returns.
The exception would be knowledge of illegal or bad-faith business activities – those issues have discreet channels for resolution, beginning with your internal Human Resources team.
For now, IT must recognize their point position in aligning business and technology for secure, effective, business outcomes.
NP: Unsquare Dance, Dave Brubeck, jazz24.org
I was reading an interesting article the other day, Apple, Google Under Fire at Hearing.
You may read the article for yourself, and I recommend it. But of interest to me, and hopefully others here, is the tracking that is performed by Google and Apple for optimization of services. This tracking can have privacy implications: Google and Apple (and by extension, anyone hacking critical data) can establish your whereabouts – either pinpointing, or exposing, virtually your exact location.
You can certainly harbor your own thoughts and opinions regarding the level of liability in all of this – but before anyone makes a hasty determination of privacy liabilities, or lack thereof, consider: There are all manner of folks who benefit from not being located at any given moment in time. There are former spouses who don’t relish being tracked. There are people with some measure of public profile who like to get out and about without generating a scene. What of witness relocation? Further, there’s potential for government abuse in this realm. Other examples abound, and further, others will evidence themselves in time.
It’s an interesting puzzle: How to manage the balance of delivering beneficial information to the consumer based on location (such as GPS and navigational assists; location and distance to pizza – you get the idea…) – while at the same time providing protection to consumers’ privacies?
No less an authority than Trevor Hughes, Executive Director of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, has some interesting things to say regarding privacy:
“You know, it seems to me that there are real risks for organizations out there today, and you can knowingly violate privacy law or the expectations of privacy of your consumers…”.
“I think it speaks to a larger issue in the marketplace, and that is we all have to become privacy professionals [emphasis added – DS] at some level. We all have to have a broad environmental awareness of how data can create risks for our organizations.”
“If your customers don’t trust your privacy, they don’t trust you. And that has implications far beyond just the law; it has real implications for your business.”
When we see Mr. Hughes speak above about risks to privacy – how data “can create risks for our organizations,” and that these things have “real implications for your business”(that is, liabilities) – he’s actually talking about… SECURITY. BUSINESS SECURITY.
I don’t like to blow my own horn (wellll… actually, I do. I lean on it sometimes…), but I’ve long made the point: All activity must now be viewed through security’s prism. Everyone in the organization must become a mini-security officer: Do it now.
I posit that, rather than everyone being a privacy professional, we really need everyone to be a security officer – that condition encompasses issues of privacy, protection, and the ensuring of best outcomes for business all around.
I’ve stated this here before at The Exchange, I stated it in my 2006 book, and I continue to counsel all businesses with whom I consult that they must do this. They must qualify every employee to view all activity through security’s prism, and to take appropriate safeguards before triggering any action. It becomes natural, efficient, and ensuring. It’s fairly simple to effect.
Breach of privacy – whether exposing business methodologies and secrets, or client, customer, consumer confidences, histories, and critical business/personal data – is a breach to security and direct threat to business continuity.
Update plans and training: Security; Acceptable Use; Content Management; Business Continuity; Disaster Awareness, Preparedness, Prevention and Recovery; and others of your own. Be certain to conduct semi-annual or quarterly refreshers: Most organizations likely have regularized refresher training, or monthly All-Staff meetings, where security and privacy concerns can easily be accommodated without too much overhead to the organization’s time and other resources.
If I may quote I.T. Wars: Sooner or later, everyone in the organization will be made a mini-security officer: Do it now.
Word to the wise.
On this day: In 1965, the Kinks arrive in New York City to begin their first U.S. tour.
I don’t mean to beat up on Citigroup. But there’s an important lesson that’s just evidenced itself. I’m also very surprised at what I’ve just learned about the breach.
As we discussed a couple days ago, the breach resulted in the exposure of 200,000+ names, account numbers, and e-mail addresses of Citigroup credit card holders. That number has now been revised upward – to over 360,000. That is not the surprising element of the story, however.
Now comes word of how these “sophisticated” hackers did the trick. They simply logged in to the site – that’s all. Then, they noticed that the browser’s address bar contained the credit card number of the account that was logged in, as part of the URL.
A quick test for the hackers in these circumstances is to simply alter the number – one digit or a couple – hit refresh – and presto! You’re in another account. By the way – this is a very old trick for web pages, apps and programs that are dumb enough to use critical content, such as account numbers, Social Security Numbers, Customer IDs, etc., as part of the URL. The idea that a major credit card company was doing this in 2011 is scary.
Once the exposure was noted, the hackers merely wrote a simple program to automate the spin of numbers through the URL, with an interim step such that each resulting page could be stripped of the critical information – again, names, account numbers, and e-mail addresses. Upon that strip, a command for a simple refresh with new number, strip – and repeat…
That is, repeat 360,000 times – before Citigroup happened to catch what was happening through a routine security check. In other words, it wasn’t even a proactive, interactive, monitor that watched for suspicious activity, and caught what was happening based on unusual activity: It was a routine, cyclical, check.
According to London’s The Daily Mail, an “expert” who is on the investigation team actually speculated how hackers would have thought to focus on the vulnerability in the browser. Words almost fail here… hackers are imaginative and adept – and pretty much always catch what’s right in front of their face. But, as stated, URL vulnerabilities have been long known. It sounds like we’re discussing something in 1995.
This unnamed expert, who wishes anonymity, stated, “It would have been hard to prepare for this type of vulnerability in the browser.”
On the contrary: This type of flaw and hack potential has been long-known, and NO responsible programmer, web-developer, applications designer, or provider goes anywhere near making an old-school exposure such as this, whereby a “key” is displayed in a URL, such that simple random substitutions unlock virtually unlimited access to other pages and related entities’ data.
Being that Citigroup had a flaw such as this, what else is lurking as extreme vulnerabilities in their systems? I would say that their overall judgment and security measures are very suspect.
On this day: In 1937, “A Day at the Races” starring The Marx Brothers opened in LA.
According to eWeek and others, approximately 200,000 card members’ accounts were accessed. The specific information compromised were names, card numbers, and e-mail addresses – perhaps other contact info depending on what you read.
Fortunately, other critical information, such as birth dates, social security numbers, card security numbers (typically on the back of your card) and card expiration dates were not compromised, as they are stored elsewhere.
It’s heartening to know that there’s a discretionary storage of critical data: That is, there is a separate repository for one set of data, but another repository (or repositories) for a complimentary set of data necessary for the “whole record” view of any one entity – in this case, person and associated credit data. This separation of data, into separate “secured” (ahem) areas makes it a little more difficult, at least, to assemble the critical info necessary to make bogus charges or acquisitions of cash at the expense of card holders.
It’s disheartening to know, however, that any measure of breach occurred to any measure of system at Citigroup. This isn’t to pick on them – for a little perspective, access the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and their Chronology of Data Breaches. That list isn’t even comprehensive – there are far more breaches, both reported and unreported, transpiring.
Citi is going to establish “enhanced procedures” according to Sean Kevelighan, spokesman for the North American Consumer Banking Division of Citi, in order to prevent future breaches. Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m curious to know if these “enhanced procedures” are general industry established and known procedures – and if so, why were they not already instituted? Also, the word “procedure” is an interesting choice. It almost makes it sound as if internal human error compounded an insecure situation.
And, I characterize the human failing of neglect, in keeping systems updated for latest security threats and actions, to be human error: Whether someone is simply not approving budget for protections, or someone is lax in surveying for risk and matched solutions.
Security solutions must be extremely aggressive. They must constantly lead threats – by a wide margin.
It doesn’t take much for a business to lose the faith of customers. In fact, it can happen at just about the speed of a button push on a keyboard…
NP: John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio, original Prestige vinyl LP… what more needs to be said?
And now for something (not) completely different (old-school Monty Python fans will understand):
(Please see Pt. I if you haven’t).
Squarely within the concerns expressed in my prior article regarding my local Starbucks, I read yesterday that U.S. Airways suffered a power loss at a data center. This loss took their website offline, grounded hundreds of flights nationwide, and consequently stranded thousands of passengers.
U.S. Airways released the following statement yesterday:
US Airways is experiencing a computer systems outage that has impacted usairways.com and the airline’s airport computer systems.
Early reports indicate that the systems outage is the result of a power outage near one of the airline’s data centers in Phoenix. Some airport computer systems are coming back online now and we are working to restore operational order.
We strongly encourage our customers to check their flight status before arriving at the airport by calling US Airways Reservations at 1-800-428-4322.
It’s not completely clear from this statement if the power outage involved utility mains – that is, elements of power outside the scope of their control – or something “near” the data center like its own internal power and associated management. But – what of reciprocal systems?… redundant data and process, geographically dispersed, and therefore not on the same substation, within the same power grid, nor same data center?
I’m frankly surprised that a major airline could go offline like this – and I rather suspect the problem was “local” (that is, located within systems and controls of the airline itself). However, I honestly don’t know – but the redundancy criticism is certainly valid. My gosh, if an endeavor like an airline can’t maintain its continuity of business in the face of a mundane local power outage – instead suffering a national impact – I think something is seriously lagging. Recognize: Local power at one data center had national impact.
But here’s a lesson for everyone, from HelpDesk staff to senior executive class:
Survey your backup equipment, UPS devices, battery statuses, and configurations. If you manage people who do those things, survey those people, and get them on it. Take nothing for granted.
June 12th: On this day in 1979, Bryan Allen flew a human-powered aircraft over the English Channel, the Gossamer Albatross. The flight took 2 hours and 49 minutes.