Pratum Blog

I see it time and time again. The guy in front of me grabs his phone and with a quick flick of his thumb pays his bill with a smartphone enabled app like Dwolla. A woman pulls a phone out of her purse and unlocks the door and starts her car using the new GM OnStar app. You know what’s the same about both situations? Neither of them see the need to use a PIN, password or biometric security function on their “phone”.

The arguments are all the same. “It’s just a phone, chill.” “I buy the insurance in case it’s lost or stolen.” “Do you know what a pain it is to enter a PIN just to make a call?” Yeah…I get it. Security is quite a pain. Imagine for a minute you’re sitting at your favorite coffee shop. The phone in your pocket is uncomfortable so you take it out and sit it on the table. 

After a minute you jump up to get another cup of coffee. The phone remains on the table. Would you do this with your checkbook, your debit/credit card? How about your car keys? What about a printed piece of paper with all of your passwords? How many of those are on your phone? What else wouldn’t you leave unattended on the table if it were in its “original or non-virtual” form.

I know security is a pain. As a consultant I have more VPN key fobs, building access cards and other security stuff than most of you. Trust me, I get it…security is not always convenient.  Growing up our parents taught us to protect things like our wallet, keys and other personal items that had value to others. It’s time we stop thinking about the relatively low cost of our smartphone hardware and the irreplaceable cost of some of the data on that smartphone. BTW…Watch out during this holiday buying season. Pickpockets aren’t as interested in your wallet anymore. Your phone has access to way more purchasing power that a couple of $20 dollar bills.

I started watching a movie the other day called Erasing David.  It was not autobiographical but it does raise some interesting points.   Could you disappear for 30 days?  A British man decides to test the degree to which he has lost his privacy by attempting to "unplug" from daily life and hiring two private detectives to locate him.  Where can he live, eat, shop?  How does he gain access to information, money and other necessities without compromising his privacy?

I deal with these issues on a daily basis.  How to limit the information that is collected and stored by researchers, marketers, vendors, governments and hackers.  We Americans do not value our privacy enough these days.  We'll gladly give up our email address for a $5 coupon and sometimes even for less.  I'd encourage everyone to spend some time and take inventory of who has what information about you.  Do it for your children too.  Many of the marketing and research companies make their databases available for sale, rent or trade.  What seems like trivial information becomes less trivial once compiled hundreds of times over with other databases.  By the way...Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and every other social media outlet is a gold mine of personal information.  If you haven't read their privacy practices recently...you should.  I'm not saying don't use them; just use them with the full knowledge of their true cost.

First let me say this: I am not trying to create mass panic. We are not having a crisis, epidemic, pandemic or any other world ending situation. You should not refuse medical treatment because of anything I point out in this short blog entry.

Recently a security researcher found a way to take control of an insulin pump and dole out a potentially lethal dose of insulin. The device is made by a large corporation and is widely used today. It uses wireless technology with no encryption. Yes...you read that right. Wireless...no encryption. I know, I know...it should be a no-brainer these days to encrypt all wireless communications but evidently it's not. The researcher had to customize the communication device and write a customized program to connect to the insulin pump. But if he can do it, so can the next guy. This isn't the first of such discoveries. A couple of years ago, certain types of pacemakers were discovered to have a similar flaw.

This is why it is so important for all projects your company works on, not just IT projects, to go through a formalized information security and privacy review before getting the green light for production. If you are buying products, especially those you sell, configure or install for others, you should do a thorough information security and privacy review during your procurement process. Ask the vendors if they've done security testing. Ask them for independent verification. If they can't or won't provide the information you must assume it wasn't done and you'll need to do your own validation. Information and communications are everywhere. Even inside our own bodies. Welcome to the Matrix.

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