It’s that time of the year again when we all reflect on the year gone by and consider what lies ahead. For many of us it's a time to resolve to do better, or more often than not for others to resolve on our behalf, especially if we‘re married...
In the world of IT, most of us have been grateful onlookers when we consider the misfortunes of others, and we wonder how they could be so irresponsible - or more likely we thank our lucky stars that yet again we've escaped, and we hope no one above us asks too many questions about how we would have dealt with a similar situation.
So as we consider our resolutions work-wise, it might be good to reflect on the twists of fate suffered by some of our colleagues over the past year, and try to learn from their bitter experiences.
March saw a well known bank pay a substantial fine for failing to produce old emails on time, although it was not alone in this as a number of other companies who fell under the Sarbanes Oxley umbrella suffered similar fates. Under the act, US-listed public companies are required to archive any and all financial data, and also to keep a record of a document's lifecycle, including who within the company had access to, viewed or amended it. The information also needs to be retrievable in just two business days!
August was the month for leaks. Not that kind – or then again maybe it was, given the summer we had. People had nothing better to do it seemed, or maybe it was just a quiet month for news, but suddenly it was raining source-code. First it was id Software, then it was Microsoft, and later in the year Valve got hit.
What's difficult to understand is how anyone who should not have access would even know where to look. Come on folks, we're talking about a couple of hours work to make sure that the stuff is so out of sight that not even Santa would find the grotto!
August continued to be a bad month for consumer confidence with the news that Hotmail had some flaws that allowed access to other peoples email.
October brought the issue of using home computers for work to the forefront, in the Netherlands at least. It was known as the Tonino affair, after a Dutch public prosecutor who put his personal PC on the street with the rubbish, believing it was defective due to a virus.
A passing taxi-driver saw it and took it home with him. He easily got it to work and took it to a journalist. The hard drive contained information on high profile cases, and the system also allowed access into all of Tonino's email. Adding insult to injury, hackers raided Tonino's email box and placed important correspondence on the Internet. Suffice it to say the unfortunate gentleman's caseload is not what it was.
So are you working from home, using your private PC and downloading confidential information from the office, all with the best of intentions – to make your life easier and to be more productive for the company? Sadly it seems that PCs leaving the store frequently haven't been patched with the latest and greatest security fixes, which leaves them open to all kinds of nasties. And then off we go providing easy remote access with all kinds of whizzbang VPN stuff, and allowing colleagues to download all kinds of confidential data. Christmas comes along and if you’re lucky maybe the employee from HR threw the old PC in the bin. It might be worse – they could have given it to the kids!
December saw yet another Government minister fall prey to the wonders of email. Email is a great invention, I simply can't imagine life without it. We frequently forget though that the keyboard is mightier than the sword, and it has this nasty habit of biting back from time to time.
Then again, our public servants continue to totally miss the point - despite what they may think, email is not intended as a way for politicians to show the rest of us how IT-literate they are. Mind you, it seems that government has found the answer – wholescale deletion of mail is the latest Whitehall brainwave. Not only could you or I end up as a guest of Her Majesty for doing something similar, but it seems they still haven’t got the point. Next, they’ll probably delete them before they send them, for security reasons.
So there we have it, a year of unfortunate mishaps, and many more besides that. But how do you avoid being next year's talk of the town? Well, maybe a few resolutions would help:
1. I resolve to put in place security layers such as File Access Control and Version Control according to our company’s policy so that only authorised users will be able to delete or modify documents.
2. I resolve to implement monitoring and auditing features to ensure that all activities are logged, and that reports can be issued and sent according to a notification process.
3. I resolve to put controls in place to ensure that users cannot copy confidential information to unauthorised systems.
This would be at the very least a start, but in the event that you find this all too much trouble, and you think that this kind of stuff only happens to other people.
4. I resolve to look into a good personal liability insurance policy - because the chances are I might need it.
Calum Macleod is a senior IT consultant with secure WAN specialist Cyber-Ark.
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