Avoiding Disasters: The Value of Continuity Planning

Server room represented by several server racks with strong dramatic light.The recent technical problems with the Delta Airlines network got me thinking about the value of business continuity planning. We teach an AIM short course dedicated to business continuity and disaster recovery planning and stress the importance of thinking through all potential scenarios. Consider this a friendly reminder to update and test your plan to make sure it is still valid. Has anything changed since your last test and could it halt your business? What is the worst-case scenario and how will you deal with it?

Delta

Delta is just the latest example of a sophisticated network of hardware and applications that failed and caused disruption to a business. In the case of Delta, a power control module failed in their technology command center in Atlanta. The universal power supply kicked in but not before some applications went offline. The real trouble began when the applications came back up but not in the right sequence. Consider application A that requires data from a database to process information to send to application B. If application B comes up before Application A, it will be looking for input that does not exist and will go into fault mode. In the same vein, if application A comes up before the database is online, it will be looking for data that does not yet exist and will fault.

Any of these scenarios will affect business operations such as ticketing, reservation and flight scheduling processes. Once flights are canceled due to lack of valid information, then the crew in San Francisco cannot get to Atlanta to start work and even more flights are canceled or delayed. In this case, it took four days before flights were fully restored. That is a lot of lost revenue and goodwill just because one power control module failed in a data center.

Disaster Recovery Planning

Information systems and networks are complex and getting more so all the time. In order to develop a plan to cover a potential interruption consider the following steps:

  • Map out your environment. Understand what systems you have, their operating systems, how they are dependent on each other, and how they are connected to each other via the network. Is it critical that all these elements come up in sequence? This map will be crucial in the event you need to rebuild your systems after a disaster.
  • Understand risks and create a plan. Understand your risk for each system and application. A small application that only runs once a month may not need attention whereas a customer order fulfillment application that runs 24/7 should be able to failover without interruption. Create a plan to keep the environment running or to restore it quickly.
  • Test the plan. This may be the most important part of the process. Testing the plan on a regular basis ensures that you have accounted for any changes to the environment and ensures that all people are up to date on their part in the event of a problem. Periodic testing also keeps the plan active and not something that becomes “shelfware.”

Thoughts

Businesses increasingly rely on sophisticated technology in order to sell product, service customers and communicate with partners. Any break in that technology can have a real impact on revenue and the long-term viability of the business. Have you tested your business continuity plan lately?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Congratulations 2016 AIM Program Graduates!

Kara McFall, UO AIM Program director, speaks at commencement.This week’s post is the transcript of AIM Program Director Kara McFall’s 2016 commencement address. Commencement took place Saturday, August 13 on the University of Oregon main campus in Eugene.

To our 2016 AIM graduates, their families and supporters; our AIM faculty and staff; and all others who are here to join in the celebration of our 2016 AIM graduating class—welcome. I’d like to start by asking the graduates, faculty, and staff to stand or raise a glass and join me in honoring the families and friends who supported our graduates throughout the AIM Program. Every one of our AIM graduates has worked hard to achieve the right to stand here today as a graduate of the program; but every graduate also had the help and support of their families and loved ones, who agonized along with them over proper APA citations, assignment deadlines, and their nitpicky Capstone 1 instructor. The role that each of you played—as supporters of our AIM graduates—is an important one, and I would like to say thank you.

You are here today with no looming paper deadlines, no assignments that are due, no need to meet with your classmates to complete a team project. I hope you’ve had time to enjoy your new role as AIM alumni and the transition from your previous role as AIM students. I’ve spent the time since your newfound freedom writing and rewriting this address. I struggled honestly with how to frame my message to you, and I finally decided to take inspiration from the 2016 presidential race. Please bear with me.

The fact is, I love politics, and every election cycle I find myself caught up in the campaigns. As a political fanatic of many years, I’ve noticed over time that while each campaign is different, there are some parallels that are universal. In particular, political candidates have a set of terms that they’ve coopted and, in every election cycle, you’ll hear these terms lobbed at the opposition. For my address today, I will be applying those terms to you, our latest AIM graduates. My fellow Americans, I present you with the following indisputable facts about the AIM graduating class of 2016.

First, I would like to state for the record that AIM graduates are flip floppers. In a political campaign when you hear the term flip flopper, it comes when one candidate accuses the other of changing positions on an issue, oftentimes with videotaped evidence showing a candidate proclaiming to take one side of an issue, and at another time proclaiming to take the exact opposite side. I believe that flip flopping is a virtue, and it is my sincere hope that you as AIM alumni live up to the name. There is a reason why we asked you to research and write so many papers exploring various topics during your time in the AIM Program. The intent was not to encourage you to take a rigid stance, but rather for you to learn to gather evidence from sources; examine the sources critically to ensure they meet the five criteria of being of high quality, authoritative, timely, relevant, and lacking in bias; and then, based upon the information you’ve gathered and assessed, make a determination of your position on a topic. We gave you similar opportunities in discussion boards, where our hope was to provide a forum for the exploration of important and timely topics and to foster debate with your classmates and your instructor. I know through working with all of you that some, if not all of you, are emerging from the AIM Program having changed your positions on different topics – you have engaged in flip flopping, and I am proud of you for doing so. The opposite of a flip flopper is someone who is rigid and refuses to learn and grow, someone who clings to a belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I hope that you will continue to base your positions not on what you believed yesterday, but rather that you will continue to gather information, examine what you find critically and, when warranted, that you will change your stance and embrace your role as a flip flopper.

Next, I would like to point out, ladies and gentlemen, that AIM graduates are uninformed. This may seem like an odd statement for the director of a master’s program to say to a group of graduates who have spent considerable time and resources in obtaining their degrees, so let me explain what I mean. I hope that your time in the AIM Program has taught you that, however much you think you know about a topic, there is always more to learn. I sincerely hope that each of you who leaves the program as an AIM graduate has nurtured or developed a love of learning. Once you have settled into your role as AIM alumni, I want you to continue to fuel your desire to learn by embracing the fact that you don’t know everything—that there are topics on which you are uninformed. I can think of no worse fate than knowing everything—to be stripped of the opportunity for the joy of discovery. I hope that saying the words “I didn’t know that” come to mean not the admission of ignorance, but instead to represent the opportunity to indulge a continued love of learning.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to talk about failure. Before you get your backs up, let me share my philosophy on failure. Everyone—everyone—fails in achieving a goal at some point in their lives. Those who fail the most are those who have tried the most. Most of us have a hard time when we fail to reach a goal—it’s a horrible feeling and, for goal-oriented people, having to admit that you’ve failed at something can be devastating. Reactions can range from defensiveness—explaining why you didn’t actually fail or why the failure was someone else’s fault—to feelings of negative self worth. I have students every year who view a less than perfect grade on an assignment or in a class as failure, and I understand—grades and what they represent are important, and most of you came into the AIM Program with goals related to your grades. But I hope that one of the lessons you take from the AIM Program is to look at failure to reach a goal as a gift. I want to repeat those words, because the lesson is the single most valuable lesson I have learned in my own life: Failure is a gift. Failure gives you the opportunity to honestly assess why you fell short in your efforts and identify opportunities for you to hone your skills or alter your approach, or even to sometimes let go of one goal for the opportunities represented by another. I want to encourage you to approach failure with grace and with gratitude, and to treat each failure to reach a goal as a gift that provides the opportunity to learn something new about yourself or the world, to improve, and to move in a new direction. I challenge you all to embrace your failures.

To sum up—I hope the AIM Program has provided you with the skills and confidence to pursue the knowledge that will enable you to flip flop on issues rather than remain rigid in your stances, that you will continue to seek out topics on which you are uninformed so that you can indulge a love of learning, and that you will embrace your failures for the opportunities they present. I also hope that you are able to embark on your post-AIM journeys without CNN chronicling your every step. AIM Class of 2016, I am proud of each one of you, and I don’t need an exit poll to tell me that all of you are winners. I hope you will take the opportunity to keep in touch with us as you move into your next phase as AIM graduates. Congratulations to you, AIM Class of 2016!

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Technology in Military and Law Enforcement

Photo of a drone in the foreground with the setting sun in the background.Police officers and military personnel face potential danger every day. This week we’ll look at technology that supports them and makes their jobs easier and safer.

Bomb Detecting Drones

According to a recent article, there are an estimated 100 million live land mines in the world. Many of these are from conflicts long past, but some are placed to sway the outcome of a current battle. Unfortunately there are no maps to show exactly where these land mines are planted. The Mine Kafon Drone can detect and destroy land mines and is currently looking for Kickstarter funding. It works by mapping an area and then using a metal detector to locate the mines within that area. When one is found, it is tagged with a GPS detector to mark its location. The drone then returns to the operator to be fitted with a robotic arm so that it can place small detonators on the mine. The mines are then detonated remotely with both the drone and the operator out of harm’s way. This is a great example of technology being applied to a serious and life threatening problem throughout the world.

Robots in Police Work

Police and rescue personnel use robots to find and retrieve missing people. These robots or drones can search for people in dangerous places; once a person is detected, the rescuers can plan a safe way to extract them. This is important in situations where someone is in a collapsed building or in an area where there are toxic chemicals.

Similar robots are now being used to neutralize a threat such as an active shooter. These robots are fitted with cameras and sensors, even guns or explosives when the mission is to eliminate the threat. These are used only as a last resort when negotiations break down or are not possible. As I think about the future of such devices, I wonder if we could apply this technology to war strategy. Can we ever get to a point where we choose an isolated location and each side sends out their best drones and robots to try to destroy the other side? The operators and other humans could be safe, far away from the conflict. Would it mean as much to blow up each other’s devices as to actually harm people? It would certainly be safer for us.

Thoughts

I am grateful for those who are developing technology to improve the safety of the men and women who protect us. I will be watching the development of the Mine Kafon Drone and other devices that detect and remove threats. Let me know of any similar technologies that you are aware of. I think this is a young but growing field.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Rule 41 and Digital Privacy Rights

Photo of wooden gavel on a black computer keyboard.Proposed changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure would allow a judge to authorize a search and seizure outside of their jurisdiction. For example, a Massachusetts judge could authorize a search in Alaska or even in a foreign country. This would mainly apply to government electronic hacking efforts into computers and computer networks. The changes have been approved by the Supreme Court and will go into effect on December 1 unless challenged by Congress.

I believe this is a slippery slope that threatens the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. What are the implications of this possible erosion of privacy on our own computers and networks?

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment was added as part of the bill of rights in 1791 and deals with the search of homes and private property without a properly executed search warrant. It stems from the almost unlimited powers granted to British tax collectors to search homes and property for contraband that wasn’t being returned to King George in the form of taxes. Those who drafted the Fourth Amendment could not foresee 21st century technologies and interconnected systems. At issue now is whether a warrant can be issued remotely and whether one warrant can be issued for hundreds or even thousands of systems through surveillance and hacking.

No Expectation of Privacy

Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. recently ruled, “people should have no expectation of privacy on their home PCs because no connected computer ‘is immune from invasion.’” This is a ruling associated with a case of government takeover and surveillance of a site on the dark web for the purpose of collecting networking information of visitors. One warrant was issued for many searches, including those outside of the United States. The judge in this case argued that even that one warrant was not necessary because the defendants were engaged in illegal activity and took measures to hide those activities behind the anonymity of the dark web.

Digital Rights

Advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation are challenging this ruling and filed an amicus brief in this case, but to no avail. My main question is how much privacy should we expect on our personal systems and in our transactions on the web? This case maintains that because there are so many hacking attempts we should have no expectation of privacy, even from our government. This seems like a spurious argument at best. I have written before about the notion of geographical boundaries and how those boundaries are disappearing as we engage in more electronic transactions. This case and the proposed changes to Rule 41 only accelerate the dissolution of boundaries.

Thoughts

My aim is to make you aware of the activities and rulings that could affect your right to privacy, particularly digital privacy. Is there cause for concern? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Life Lessons from the Road

Kelly Brown riding in the Portland to Seattle ClassicEarlier this month I rode in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. That is 205 miles in the saddle over two days, although some choose to complete it in one day. I have done this ride before so I knew what to expect. Two days on the bike gives me a lot of time for reflection and I would like to share, particularly with AIM students, some of those thoughts. I call them lessons from the road, which applies to my time in the saddle and throughout my life in general. Hopefully they resonate with you as well.

Don’t Quit Until You’re Done

For those of us who choose to do the ride over two days, there are various towns where you can camp overnight. The official center point is the 102-mile mark and riders can camp there at a small college. Others, like me, opt to put in a few more miles on the first day and stay at the 120-mile mark, which makes for a much easier second day.

That night I ate with fellow riders and I repeatedly heard, “Oh, that last 20 miles almost did me in.” They set out that morning knowing full well they were going to ride the longer distance so it should not have been a surprise. After talking to many of them, it dawned on me that they mentally finished at the halfway point when everyone was cheering and congratulating them for a job well done. For the last 20 miles they were riding in body only, having already finished for the day in mind and spirit.

How many times in our lives do we do the same thing? We set an attainable goal for ourselves and then we quit mentally before we are finished. We try to coast for the last 20 miles or the last class or the last effort that needs all of our concentration. I am going to always try to finish strong and I challenge you to do the same.

Watch Out for Those Around You

In this ride they cap registration at 10,000 so there are always fellow riders around you. It is not as bad as a Tour de France peloton but sometimes the distance between wheels can be measured in inches. It can take a lot of concentration to watch out for others, but the reward is a safe ride. I came upon more than one accident involving multiple riders so I know the risk.

As in cycling, it makes sense to watch out for others as we pass through life. Not necessarily out of a sense of danger but in the spirit of lending a hand. Do you ever notice a fellow student struggling and reach out to try and help? Do you try to help young people, or perhaps the elderly, during your day? Sometimes others struggle with tasks that seem routine to us so it never hurts to lend a hand.

Enjoy the Scenery

One of the most important lessons I learned during those hours in the saddle is to enjoy the scenery. I am not the fastest rider and I often hear the phrase “passing on your left.” While I will most likely never finish first in any of these rides, I definitely take the time to enjoy the scenery. Each mile brings a different view and, while pavement is not very interesting to look at nature, people and architecture definitely are. Whether high up on a bridge or deep in a forest, there is always something interesting to see.

Life can be hard and finishing a degree program can be hard, but I think it is important to look up every once in awhile and take in the scenery. It helps to put everything else in perspective.

Thoughts

These are my thoughts from the road. Finish strong, help others, and enjoy the scenery along the way. Do you have any life lessons that you have picked up on your journey? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Pokemon Go and the Future of Augmented Reality

Photograph of a smart phone screen with an active Pokemon Go game.Augmented reality took a big leap forward this month with the release of Pokemon Go from Niantic Labs and partner Nintendo. This game has become very popular and has drawn praise and criticism from different groups. Many are excited about getting players young and old out of the house, but some are concerned about the potential security problems when the lines are blurred between the virtual and real worlds. Personally, I am fascinated by the social implications of this technology and its potential benefits in gaming and extended professional scenarios.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go requires players to chase Pokemon cartoon characters in the real world using a smart phone. It uses the smartphone camera and clock to overlay one of 151 characters in real places such as the city, the beach, the forest or in buildings. The player must collect these characters wherever they may be. Water characters can only be collected near waterways and night fairies can only be collected at night. The game has become so popular that Darwin police in Northern Australia have alerted players that they do not need to come into the police station to catch a particular character:

For those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs. It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!

This is not the first augmented reality game, but so far it’s the most popular. Niantic released a similar game called Ingress in 2015. Pokemon Go uses the same database of features and is basically Ingress using Nintendo characters.

Recent History

Niantic Labs was a Google creation but spun off last fall during the Alphabet restructuring. The original intent by Google was to build things on top of the incredible mapping technology that they already have. Think about Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View. They have a comprehensive database of geo coordinates, so it makes sense to augment (no pun intended) that work with a game. This is a great example of an innovation extension.

My Interest

I have seen similar application research recently in the field of education. The premise is that if young people could be enticed to go to a park or a museum or into the forest, they could learn about the features of that location and earn tokens at the same time. Basically, this is the gamification of nature or history. I have written about this topic before, but I am all in favor of enticing people to go outdoors, whether to search for cartoon characters or for solitude away from the stress and distractions of everyday life.

Thoughts

Games like Pokemon Go could be the first of many popular augmented reality games. While there are still some bugs to be worked out, the technology is promising. Have you played Pokemon Go? Do you think this is a passing fad or the beginning of a new reality? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Customer Data: The New Capital

Fingerprint weighted against a dollar sign.Sports Authority, a retail chain of sporting goods stores, recently filed for bankruptcy and sold off all of their assets. One of the highest bids was for their name, e-commerce site and customer data, bought by rival Dick’s Sporting Goods for $15 million. In contrast, a package of several store leases went for only $8 million and naming rights to Sports Authority Field, also known as Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos, is still on the auction block. It appears that customer information is the new desired capital, but what does that say about our privacy and the use of our personal information? Is it truly for sale to the highest bidder? Did we actually agree to that?

Privacy Policies

The Sports Authority privacy policy states, “We may transfer your personal information in the event of a corporate sale, merger, acquisition, dissolution or similar event.” Information collected and stored at the Sports Authority website includes full name, street address, e-mail address, telephone number, credit card number, and credit card expiration date. This is not unique to Sports Authority; other online retailers collect the same information and include a similar caveat in their privacy policies. It is up to the consumer to read and understand that clause and decide whether it is worth the risk.

Relationships

When signing up for rewards programs I agree to hand over my personal information, regardless of whether I read the privacy policy or not, but I expect our relationship to end if the company is dissolved. In the case of Sports Authority, my intended relationship was with them and not with Dick’s Sporting Goods or someone else. Is there a step in the process that lets me break off the deal should I not want to be solicited by the highest bidder?

Thoughts

With value on customer data comes responsibility to customers who have disclosed their information and expect at least a minimum of privacy and discretion. Privacy advocates are watching these developments closely. They are concerned that the new owners will not adhere to the original privacy agreement and will use the customer information in ways not originally agreed upon.

Let me know your thoughts on buying and selling customer information. It is not a new idea. I have received solicitations from car dealers for years based on information available from the division of motor vehicles. What is new is how easy it is to collect, buy, and sell this information and the amount of associated customer information collected, which can be put up for sale to the highest bidder.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Brexit and the Technology Industry

Puzzle with the national flag of great Britain and European Union on a world map background.The recent decision by Britain to exit the European Union (Brexit) has people asking a lot of questions. Some analysts are pondering British technology regulations and the state of the technology industry post European Union. There are surprising implications that perhaps have not been considered but probably would not have made a difference in the vote.

Silicon Roundabout

An area in East London has been dubbed Silicon Roundabout for the concentration of high-tech firms, particularly start-ups. In a 2013 Guardian article, director of Twilio Europe James Parton cites reasons for locating a hub in London, “…London was a natural choice for our first office outside of the U.S. Language, accessibility to rest of Europe, a vibrant start-up ecosystem, the financial market, talent and flexible business conditions were all contributing factors.” Other areas of Britain have attracted high-tech heavyweights and start-ups alike.

With Brexit, some of those desirable qualities could disappear. Accessibility to the single EU market is in jeopardy, which could result in less than favorable trade arrangements and higher tariffs for companies operating in an independent Britain. A recent BBC article suggests that Berlin, for example, will actively court those tech start-ups and venture capitalists that have been pouring money into Britain. In making her pitch, Cordelia Yzer, Berlin Senator for Commerce and Technology, said, “They are welcome, their talent is more than welcome. It’s a great place to live and we also speak English. Berlin is a place where their dreams can come true.”

High Finance

Another potential issue for tech firms in Britain is access to capital. Start-ups in particular, but all tech firms in general, are capital-intensive operations mainly used for talent and equipment. A recent Reuters article reports that Standard and Poors and Fitch Rating recently dropped their credit rating for the country. This could make it harder or more expensive for companies to borrow capital for expansion or for a start-up. These companies could consider other EU centers such as Berlin or Paris, where funds are less expensive.

Data Privacy

The EU and the U.S. are working on the latest changes to their data privacy agreement. The EU has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world with Germany and France leading the charge in areas such as “the right to be forgotten,” which require companies such as Google to erase all internet history of an individual upon their request. Britain has pushed for less stringent regulations but it remains to be seen whether they will still abide by the EU-U.S. data privacy agreement. That brings up the question of whether data flowing through Britain will still adhere to those standards, or will it be less secure?

Thoughts

The exit is still being planned, though EU countries are pushing to get it done sooner rather than later. With the separation come questions for high-tech companies and consumers. These will be sorted out over time and I will be watching the developments with interest. Can you think of any tech benefits or drawbacks to a post-EU Britain? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Careers in Technology: Threat Intelligence

A silhouette of a hacker with a black hat in a suit enters a hallway with walls textured with random letters 3D illustration backdoor conceptI recently came across an interesting New York Times article highlighting the field of threat intelligence. Gartner expects the market for this security service to reach $1 billion next year, up from $255 million in 2013. Surely there must be job opportunities for the person with the right preparation, education, and credentials. I did more research into this technology career and came up with some interesting prospects.

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

In the article, the author cited a case of a family welding shop in Wisconsin that ran a small server for tracking orders, billings and suppliers. Their server was hacked, and they were totally unaware until a Silicon Valley security firm contacted them. The firm noticed that it had become a proxy to get to other vulnerable servers, some from very large companies. The security firm left the server in place but now closely monitors the traffic going in and out of it and can preemptively warn clients when they have been breached or are about to be compromised. Threat intelligence is really about being proactive, as opposed to reactive, and monitoring security issues or paying others to monitor them for you.

Education

For education in this field, it is best to pursue the Certified Information Systems Security Professional designation. This training is available through self study, on-site or online training which prepares you for the mandatory tests. There is even a “CISSP For Dummies” book but I am not sure I would trust my network to someone who chose that route to learn the business.

In addition to the CISSP, there are specialized courses in threat intelligence to augment the CISSP training and certification. These courses take you beyond basic intrusion detection and teach you how to battle persistent threats and how to programmatically counter these threats.

Jobs

There are jobs available in private industry for security firms that do threat intelligence and sell that information to clients. Many major corporations want to build in-house expertise in this area in order to fend off hackers and protect proprietary information. There are also government jobs available from agencies trying to get the upper hand on security threats. This expertise might have prevented the breach of the Democratic National Committee that I mentioned in last week’s blog.

Thoughts

Network and system security is becoming more critical as some of our most valuable assets are the data we store about customers, new products, proprietary processes, and partner agreements. It is essential for firms and agencies to do all they can to protect that data. That means now moving from a reactive approach to the proactive and systematic method offered by the new field of threat intelligence.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Watergate 2016: The Evolution of Technology

Stylized photo of a hooded hacker at a laptop.The political season in the U.S. is now in full swing and I had to smile at a recent article about a security breach of a Democratic National Committee server and the  alleged theft of background information on the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. For a moment I thought I had slipped back to 1972 when a break-in and attempted wiretap occurred at the Watergate hotel and office complex where the Democratic Committee was headquartered. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case though, the technology has evolved from breaking, entering, and wiretapping to sophisticated digital entry to specific servers. Let’s take a look at the evolution of technology in terms of security.

1972

I followed the Watergate scandal closely even though I was only a teenager. Members of the “committee to re-elect the president” were found to have masterminded a break in into the Watergate office building to plant wiretaps on the phones of key members of the Democratic Committee. Several players were indicted and sentenced to prison and President Nixon eventually resigned under suspicion of having authorized the break-in and for keeping secret recordings. When the Watergate burglars were caught, they were found with:

“… at least two sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations. In addition, police found lock-picks and door jimmies, almost $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills with the serial numbers in sequence.

The men also had with them one walkie-talkie, a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns.”

2016

Fast forward almost 45 years and consider the modern tools of the burglary/cyber espionage trade. No longer is it necessary to even be near a physical building; a lucrative break-in can be done from anywhere. As of this writing, it is believed that hackers linked to the Russian government broke into the Democratic National Committee servers, presumably while in Russia. Whether that can ever be substantiated or whether the individuals behind the break-in will ever be brought to justice is doubtful. Part of the hacking ethos is to cover digital tracks through multiple systems and connections so as to mask the hacker’s identity.

Thoughts

Catching five burglars with wiretapping equipment in an office building was a piece of cake compared to what law enforcement faces today. The stakes are higher in terms of the information stores that we keep and the break-in methods are much more sophisticated. The tools needed to track and prevent a strike are complicated and require advanced education and skills. As long as we continue to have security breaches, both in politics and business, organizations of all types will seek qualified professionals. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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