State University Gives Copies of Security Career Books to Students

Earlier this year, Georgia State University asked me to speak at an information session for students in its Masters of Science in Information Systems (MSIS). Students needed to choose their study concentration; my job was to describe the information security profession to them so that they could choose whether to elect the security concentration, or one of two other concentrations. 
The university gave to all of its MSIS students a copy of one of my recent books, Getting an Information Security Job For Dummies. University officials recognized that the book accurately describes the profession, how professionals can learn more about the profession, career choices within the profession, and steps someone can take to get into the profession.

After my talk, university officials informed me that twenty-five students elected to pursue the information security concentration. This was greater than they expected, and they were pleased with the outcome. They expressed their gratitude to me for the time I took to describe the profession to them and answer their questions.

Will 2016 Be The Year Of The Board?

This year has exploded out of the gate, starting on Jan 4 (the first business day of the year) with a flurry of activity. Sure, some of this is just new budget money that is available. However, I’m seeing a lot of organizations in my part of the world (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, and Alaska) asking for help on the topic of communicating to executive management and the board of directors.

It’s about time.

Really, though, this makes sense.  Boards of directors aren’t interested in fads in business management. They rely upon their tried-and-true methods of managing businesses through board meetings, audit and risk committees, and meetings with executives. Until recently, board members perceived information security as a tactical matter not requiring their attention. However, with so many organizations suffering from colossal breaches, board members are starting to ask questions, which is a step in the right direction.

Let me say this again. Board members’ asking questions is a big sign of progress. And it doesn’t matter, mostly, what those questions are. It’s a sign they are thinking about information security, perhaps for the first time. And they’re bold enough to ask questions, even if they fear they are asking stupid questions.

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) has an excellent publication on the topic of boards of directors attention on information security, called the Cyber Risk Oversight Handbook. Last I checked, a soft copy is free. Whether you are a board member or an infosec staffer, I highly recommend this for your reading list in early 2016.

Neat Receipts Has Forgotten (or never knew) How to Earn Customer Loyalty

I’ve been a happy user of Neat Receipts for years, having purchased one of their portable scanners. It has worked pretty much  trouble free on PCs and Macs since I purchased it. But that was all about to change.

I upgraded my Mac to El Capitan a couple of months ago, and today needed to scan some diagrams that I’ll be using in an upcoming book. The Neat software did not recognize the scanner, so I went through the usual troubleshooting, including special steps on the Neat website for El Capitan users. Still, no luck.

Neat

I went to Neat’s customer support page, and found that their chat function was working (today is Saturday). I discussed the matter with the support rep, who asked me for the model of my scanner (it’s NR-030108). The rep told me that this model was no longer supported and would not work any longer. Oh great.  I asked whether there was any kind of a trade-in allowance, and he answered that there was not.

So, Neat has obsoleted my scanner.  I can get over it – it’s a part of the regular improvements in information technology. I get that. But, Neat is offering nothing in order to keep me as a customer.  There is nothing keeping me from considering other good products such as Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100i, for instance. In fact the Fujitsu is a little less expensive, it works with Mac, does everything I need, and has a slew of good online reviews.

Apparently Neat is going to just let me walk.

Security: Not a Priority for Retail Organizations

Several years ago, VISA announced a “liability shift” wherein merchants would be directly liable for credit card fraud on magstripe card transactions. The deadline for this came and went in October, 2015, and many merchants still didn’t have chip reader terminals. But to be fair to retailers, most of the credit/debit cards in my wallet are magstripe only, so it’s not ONLY retailers who are dragging their feet.

My employment and consulting background over the past dozen years revealed plainly to me that retail organizations want to have as little to do with security as possible. Many, in fact, even resist being compliant with required standards like PCI DSS. For any of you who are unfamiliar with security and compliance, in our industry, it is well understood that compliance does not equal security – not even close to it.

I saw an article today, which says it all. A key statement read, “There is a report that over the holidays several retailers disabled the EMV (Chip and Pin) functionality of their card readers. The reason for this? They did not want to deal with the extra time it takes for a transaction. With a standard card swipe (mag-swipe) you are ready to put in your pin and pay in about three seconds. With EMV this is extended to roughly 10 seconds.” Based on my personal and professional experience with several retail organizations, I am not surprised by this.  Most retailers just don’t want to have to do security at all. You, shoppers, are the ones who pay the price for it.

tacoma-narrows

IT Lacks Engineering Discipline and Rigor

Every week we read the news about new, spectacular security breaches. This has been going on for years, and sometimes I wonder if there are any organizations left that have not been breached.

Why are breaches occurring at such a clip? Through decades of experience in IT and data security, I believe I have at least a part of the answer. But first, I want to shift our focus to a different discipline, that of civil engineering.

Civil engineers design and build bridges, buildings, tunnels, and dams, as well as many other things. Civil engineers who design these and other structures have college degrees, and they have a license called a Professional Engineer. In their design work, they carefully examine every component and calculate the forces that will act upon it, and size it accordingly to withstand expected forces, with a generous margin for error, to cover unexpected circumstances. Their designs undergo reviews before their plans can be called complete.  Inspectors carefully examine and approve plans, and they examine every phase of site preparation and construction. The finished product is inspected before it may be used.  Any defects found along the way, from drawings to final inspection, results in a halt in the project and changes in design or implementation.  The result: remarkably reliable and long-lasting structures that, when maintained properly, provide decades of dependable use. This practice has been in use for a century or two and has held up under scrutiny. We rarely hear of failures of bridges, dams, and so on, because the system of qualifying and licensing designers and builders, as well as design and construction inspections works. It’s about quality and reliability, and it shows.

Information technology is not anything like civil engineering. Very few organizations employ formal design with design review, nor inspections of components as development of networks, systems, and applications. The result: systems that lack proper functionality, resilience, and security. I will explore this further.

When organizations embark to implement new IT systems – whether networks, operating systems, database management systems, or applications – they do so with little formality of design, and rarely with any level of design or implementation review.  The result is “brittle” IT systems that barely work. In over thirty years of IT, this is the norm that I have observed in over a dozen organizations in several industries, including banking and financial services.

In case you think I’m pontificating from my ivory tower, I’m among the guilty here. Most of my IT career has been in organizations with some ITIL processes like change management, but utterly lacking in the level of engineering rigor seen in civil engineering and other engineering disciplines.  Is it any wonder, then, when we hear news of IT project failures and breaches?

Some of you will argue that IT does not require the same level of discipline as civil or aeronautical engineering, mostly because lives are not directly on the line as they are with bridges and airplanes. Fine. But, be prepared to accept losses in productivity due to code defects and unscheduled downtime, and security breaches. If security and reliability are not a part of the design, then the resulting product will be secure and reliable by accident, but not purposely.

So Long, Microsoft, And Thanks For All The Fish

Word Version 1.1a

Word Version 1.1a

I have been using Microsoft software since 1985 when I purchased Microsoft Word and Microsoft Multiplan for my new Zenith Z160 “portable” PC. I’ve used Word continuously for thirty years at home, at work, as a university instructor, and as a published author.

I wrote my first three books in FrameMaker, a superior but far more expensive word processor ($500 per user in 1998) as required by my publishers at the time. But by the early 2000’s most had moved to Word since Microsoft had sufficiently closed the feature gap.

I’m coming to realize that this weekend might be the last time I use Microsoft software – at home anyway (I use a PC running Windows 7 and Office for work).

z160

Zenith Z160 portable computer

I ordered a new MacBook Pro yesterday, and it will arrive on Monday. The MBP comes with Apple’s versions of office programs, called Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Next week I will try them out on my university teaching and on my current writing project. If it goes alright and I figure out all of the subtle differences, I will probably not purchase Office for the new Mac.

Part of this comes down to economics. Office for Mac costs $150 or more, and the same programs from Apple cost $20 apiece (if you don’t have a new Mac that came with them), or free with your Mac since some time in the past year or two.

I’ll post a review of Pages, Keynote, and Numbers in a month or so after I’ve been using them a while.

Still, I can’t help but feel somewhat nostalgic, as I’ve had Word with me nearly all of my adult life. But as the dolphins exclaim in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Why encryption is important in communications

Communications between devices often passes over public networks that have varying risks of eavesdropping and interference by adversaries. While the endpoints involved in a communications session may be protected, the communications itself might not be. For this reason, cryptography is often employed to make communications unreadable by anyone (or any thing) that may be able to intercept them. Like the courier running an encrypted message through a battlefield in ancient times, an encrypted message in the modern context of computers and the Internet cannot be read by others.

  • excerpt from a book in progress