Cool as McCumber

Oct. 27, 2008
The Times, They Are A-Changin’

I was reminded of Bob Dylan’s famous song this morning as I was hauling my trash and recycling bins to the curb. As a child growing up in 60s, I was introduced to his music early in life by my older sister. Now, as a campfire troubadour and basement rock star, I enjoy playing his songs. Most of his compositions are fairly easy to play, and even if you sing as badly as I do, you can simply claim you’re channeling the master.
“The Times, They Are a-Changin’” had found its way into my consciousness as I bent over to pick up the eight-pound local telephone book that lay in my driveway. I instantly recognized it by its telltale color and the garish advertisement on the back cover for a local personal injury attorney. Some guy in a small truck conveniently threw it onto my driveway the night before trash day. Rather than cart that relic up to the house, I simply waited to bring the paper recycling bin down to it. Hopefully, some ingenious entrepreneur will now recycle it back into a tree.

I remember the days when my wife and I always had a stack of phone books on a kitchen shelf. As we spent many years of our young lives near Boston and Washington, D.C., we usually had several to account for all localities and, of course, the infamous, four-inch thick Yellow Pages. The shelf needed to be adequately reinforced to accommodate this library of waste. Think about it. How much if this reference material did you actually use?

Ever since the early Internet days, I’ve opted to search for numbers and local businesses through the Web. I can even look up colleagues and old friends in cities and towns worldwide. Then I send them an e-mail they can respond to from their handheld. If I need a good local electrician, I not only find a number, I can often find postings from previous customers regarding the service I can expect. Computer technology not only simplifies this process, it is also able to keep the information current and provides a wide variety of supporting context.

Computer technology continues to dramatically change our world. As security professionals, it is important to ask ourselves if we are going to be able to keep up. There is an entirely new Web 2.0 world that is emerging in the workplace. The generations that are too young to remember the songs of Bob Dylan are bringing their new technology-accelerated world into our organizations with them. We have a critical choice to make. Now is the time for us to decide how we are going to deal with it.

Some security experts advise us to place ourselves near the front door of the building like a corporate hall monitor and demand these new employees leave their FaceBook, texting, MySpace, SmartPhone, iPhone life outside of the workplace in the name of security. These same practitioners point ominously to a daunting list of new technical vulnerabilities, and a plethora of emerging threats no one could have imagined just last year. Their security answer is to pull the plug on all this fancy new stuff, lock down the organizational firewalls (real as well as imaginary) and tell everyone to get back to work.

Sadly for them, the genie is out of the bottle, the toothpaste is out of the tube, the water is under the bridge, and the times, they are a-changin’. Web 2.0 brings us new connections, literally and figuratively. Those innocent little cellular phones that allowed your spouse to reach you on the job can now take pictures, send clandestine messages, receive e-mail, beam data, and even take video. That last feature has already come in handy in several high-profile court cases.

In addition to what is taking place around us technologically, there is a related seismic shift in social interactions. Millions of people stay in touch with social networking Web sites, upload videos to the connected, and post their personal stories and opinions for the world to see. They expect instant news and updates, if not instant gratification. It is foolish thinking to assume they will gladly abandon this prolific personal network while engaging in the amusingly archaic concept of the workday. For many of them, work is part of play, and they are online 24 hours a day.

Our professional responsibility is to recognize these dramatic changes and prepare for them. Even corporate security concerns will not be able to derail this sea change of technological and social evolution. We need to continue to protect corporate information and enforce sensible policies while accommodating the young workforce we need to attract to keep our business flourishing. If not, we can opt to retire, sit on the porch, and yell, “Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!” This old world is rapidly agin’.

John McCumber is a security and risk professional, and is the author of “Assessing and Managing Security Risk in IT Systems: A Structured Methodology,” from Auerbach Publications. If you have a comment or question for him, please e-mail John at: