Tuesday, October 6, 2009


When I read this commentary on privacy from Andrea Dimaio from Gartner, I was mildly surprised that people still thought like this, that privacy is tied to secrecy.

Bob Blakley responds at the Burton Group. I agree with his analysis, so it must be brilliant. The back and forth in the comments is worth reading.

Friday, October 2, 2009


From today's Austin American Statesman, this article discusses the fraud deterrent effect of fingerprinting applicants for food stamps, and if it is worth the delay it may be causing in processing (Department of Agriculture says it isn't).
There are lessons to be learned at Texas HHSC.
Starting here:

The electronic fingerprinting program costs $3 million a year: $1.6 million for a contract with Cogent Systems for the imaging and $1.4 million for state workers' time. The state and federal governments split the cost.

Last year, the fingerprint program led to the state investigating just four applicants for fraud.

But state officials say it's impossible to know how many people are deterred from applying multiple times because of the fingerprinting.

But later in the article:

The state estimates that the deterrent effect of fingerprinting saves $6 million to $11 million a year.

I imagine the latter figure could have been pulled from cost justification of the project, or from the vendor's response to the RFP, or even the LBB when the law was passed. (Does the cost include the initial implementation of the system?) But measuring the actual decrease in applicant fraud is a solvable problem. To say that there is "no way of knowing" the deterrent effect is not defensible. If they never measured a baseline of applicant fraud to begin with, how would they have known how much to spend on an anti-fraud measure? If they don't try to measure the change post implementation, how do they know it's working?

On the other, more cynical, hand, why should they care? They are in compliance with the state law, and the system was implemented. The only people who suffer are the citizens who need help to buy food. Folks who may not be able to take off from their minimum wage job, or don't have the transportation, to go be fingerprinted. Measuring the dignity of your customers is harder than measuring your fraud deterrence cost.

You tell 'em Stevie.

Monday, September 14, 2009


There’s a whole bunch of the IDC/RSA white paper on insider risk management that puzzles me on one level or another.
“Whether the threats are accidental or deliberate, the costs are still the same.”
I didn’t see much data in the report regarding costs. I'm not sure if they are talking about dollars. Regardless, the controls to prevent either accidental or deliberate data loss probably overlap in most scenarios, so that cost may be similar. It’s the cost of response and recovery could be wildly different. I would rather pay to have a document restored from backup than pay for the costs of a data falling into the hands of someone who would steal it. Intent is material in incident response cost. ( I'm not married to this idea yet, but I've taken it out to dinner a couple times.)
“Malware and spyware attacks are another example of the risk of good employees doing bad things.”
I don’t think good employees are doing the bad things in malware and spyware attacks. I think it's bad people doing bad things. I’d categorize the real threat as the operator of the malware or spyware. The employee's behavior is a control, but given the sophistication of much of the malware around, it is not surprising that this control occasionally fails (Is visiting NYTimes.com a “bad thing”?) If the security of data is breached due to malware on a desktop, it has gone to bad people. I think this sort of incident belongs in a different category from an error, omission or mistake. There is an intelligent actor intending harm behind the action. Not so with a lost laptop.
Under “Key Findings”
"14.4 incidents of unintentional data loss through employee negligence in the past 12 months'
So, what does this mean “unintentional data loss”? Dropping the wrong table? Hitting “Save” rather than “Save As” ? Losing a laptop? That number is not as exciting to me as the 11 incidents of internal fraud a year cited a couple rows down. Response to "unintentional data loss” could be as simple as pulling a back-up, but fraud incidents are going to burn more organizational cycles and have a demonstrated loss.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Policy and Ethics

The excellent Grits for Breakfast posted several stories of alleged misbehavior at the Bexar County probation office, including a link to the following story from the San Antonio Current. The following passage caught my attention:

According to former Bexar County probation IT Director Natalie Bynum, [Director of Operations] Cline kept a list of known and suspected union members she wanted out of the department. To weed them out and quash the union, she had Bynum meet her repeatedly during and after work to comb through employee email accounts.
“She wanted their computers monitored in order to find out if they were doing any union activities while on the job, also to see what was going on with the union,” said Bynum, who now lives in Arizona and spoke with the Current by phone. “We’d go to the bar and then we’d go back to work afterwards. It would be just us in the office, often-time.”
Bynum, a close confidant of Cline’s during her tenure, says she was motivated by curiosity since she was “not allowed” to speak with known members of the Central Texas Association of Public Employees, a division of the United Steelworkers. Cline and Bynum’s alleged searches weren’t limited to the “five to 10” employees targeted by Cline, either. Bynum told the Current this week that Cline also regularly tapped into her boss’s account to see if Fitzgerald was talking about her.

In most workplaces, this sort of activity may not be illegal, and is probably not even against policy. Still, I sense some ethical boundary is crossed when you start reading your boss' e-mail. Am I alone? On what grounds could the e-mail administrator deny an "authorized" request for reading e-mail, other than his/her own sense of ethical obligation?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Data Rustler

The best thing to come out of the Texas Lege since....ever.
A bill passed through the state senate increasing the penalty on hacking at the critical infrastructures we got down here Texas-way. (State jail penalty, no less.)

But I'm not talking about the law, but the language of the lawmaker. From the Austin American Statesman -

"[Sen. Kel S]eliger, R-Amarillo, who on Thursday passed through the Senate a bill that would increase penalties for cattle rustling, laughed at the suggestion that today’s bill was of the same genre.

“Yes, it’s going after data rustlers,” he said."

DATA RUSTLERS! YES! I now abandon "hacker," "cracker," "identity thief," and all other similarly situated nouns in favor of the term coined by the gentleman from Amarillo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


After a once over, I'm curious as to the value of the Verizon Business "Data Britches Report."

A couple questions/comments I had on the first read:
1. The document really needs a glossary. It's hard to parse the special meaning assigned to certain words and phrases as they recur throughout the document. For example: "data breach" "record" "incident" and "errors and omissions," the last of which didn't mean what I thought it would mean ("negligence and "non-compliance" seem to convey more of what was intended. When I think E&O, I think "malpractice.")
2. Is the skew toward "outsider" threats due to the type of service that VB offers? Actually, is the skew of all the data because of the type and quality of service that VB offers? Hell, VB admits to whacked out skew. So give me some damages! Or, at least give me a standard deviation, if you are going to skew that way.
3. Where are my scatter plots? Some get these guys some visualization skills.
4. Lumping intellectual property breaches with credit card and NPI in cumulative stats seems wrong to me. I reminds me of an article I read about computer crime that included statistics on hacking, toll fraud and the hijacking of trucks that carried computer chips. That was maybe 12 years ago, or more. This sort of loose affiliation of crimes, torts and misbehavior shovelled under a skirt called "cyber" makes less sense everytime I read a "cyber" this or that. How about words like fraud, impersonation, crime, non-compliance?
5. About half way through, I got the feeling that I was reading a DEA document about the War on Crime. A focus on the incident, without a look at what caused the incident. Who got the money? Why are they stealing data? Is this "cyber" or just fraud? Is it a war we can win? Have we just turned the corner?

Gimme something substantive for a conversation, not just re-hashed status reports that may be misleading.

(Just noticed that Brooke at New School wrote similar comments. I am not alone.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tea Risk

At the Tea Risk conference today. Heard a woman keynote all over me, until my brain sploded. Her talk was divided into two part:
1. A retrospective of headlines indicate that there has been no progress in information security in the past twenty years. This trip down corrupted memory lane came with wistful recollections of the punch-card, suspender snapping variety. Vax is what we should nostagicate on now. And despite her involvement in security, and yelling the same thing over and over again, No Progress Has Been Made. I was waiting for her confession that she was part of the problem, doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Didn't come. A slight whiff of the "stoopid luzers" but the topic was dropped without conclusion.
2. A detailed trip through her personal hell of IDENTITY THEFT! Here's what happens: on some records somewhere, her Social Security number is associated with SOMEONE ELSE! Of course, no fraudulent loans were made, no bogus entries on her credit bureaus reports, and the person used a different name, different gender, different address, different date of birth, etc. And yet, she was upset that the police were somewhat reluctant to send out an APD and marshal all available resources to investigate her claim. She hinted that she used less than legal means to get the other individual's address and driver's license, and carried around a stack of papers with all her info into a Kafkaesque morass of bureaucracy. I've seen this sort of thing before in my previous life as an investigator. It's not IDENTITY THEFT, it's a typo. I've been brewing a rant in my head about the words "identity theft," but it probably needs a while longer to attain the desired proof.
This woman's bio lists her as a "risk consultant." Maybe that's why security sux.

Morning at Tea Plantation, by Docbudie via Flickr.