By Bruce Bonsall, CISSP – BT, Senior Security Strategist
I tried to donate an electric typewriter to a couple of charities but they didn’t want it; apparently, there isn’t much of an after-market for old typewriters.
A few novelists still bang out their manuscripts on manual typewriters but the rest of us use computers to type up our literary masterpieces. Technology has progressed to the point where we can even talk to our computers and have our spoken words automatically translated into text — no typing required.
I still prefer to type on a keyboard with the little springs under the keys; I like the action and the feedback that the mechanical keys provide. The touch screen keyboard on my iPad works great — but it just isn’t as satisfying to type on as a regular keyboard. It’s purely a personal preference thing that may have something to do with learning to type in Junior High on mechanical typewriters. It might also be the stress relief I get from mashing the keys, similar to chopping firewood or crushing a golf ball off the tee with my R11 driver.
When I first started my career in IT over 25 years ago, there were groups of typists, the ‘typing pools’ you’ve heard of, who would type up memos and documents for others in the company. You’d write a carefully-worded memo by hand, give it to the Typing Pool, and receive back the typed pages. If you found typos or wanted revisions, you’d send it back again. In this way, typed memos could take two or three days from conception to completion. And then you had to await an equally thoughtful reply which also took two or three days. That pace of communication is in stark contrast to the lightning fast almost instantaneous conveyance of information today. My kids can send vitally important, “wassup?” texts to their friends and immediately receive back the all-important response, “nothin”. A leap forward for human interaction? I’m not so sure.
The speed of communication has certainly increased and, when time is of the essence, such as when you need vital medical information, that’s a very good thing. Sometimes being quick means not being dead. That’s why gun slingers would ‘shoot from the hip’. They’d rapidly draw their pistols, known as jerking leather, just far enough to clear their holsters and then shoot. There wasn’t time to carefully aim or bring the other hand up to support the shooting hand. They drew their weapons and shot with one motion and no hesitation.
When we’re not in a shoot-out at the OK Corral, or saving trauma victims in the Emergency Room or doing something that really requires top speed, taking time to think before reacting is preferred.
Communication is one of those areas where thinking before doing is a good idea. Communication is one of those things that should be time-delayed to allow for bleeping out those things we wish we hadn’t said. When we email or text a message, once it is sent, there’s pretty much no getting it back, no bleeping it out. Think before you hit that send button.
The consumerization of technology has resulted in communication devices that are often as much for personal use as business purposes. Millions of young people around the world can afford such devices and almost none of what they do with them would be considered business-related, except as consumers. Their use of them is generally for entertainment and socializing, is casual in nature and lacks the formality and structure required with business transactions. An enormous segment of the population, because of their casual use of communication technology, is having an interesting effect on business. People are entering the workforce, bringing their own devices and blurring the lines between casual personal use and business. Communication has grown increasingly informal and terse. Messages are short. Words are often abbreviated, and as a result, sometimes cryptic.
Popular social media applications like Facebook encourage a casual familiar form of communication and Twitter, with its 140 character limitation, encourages users to keep messages very short. The basic premise of both of those social media platforms is to briefly share what you’re doing with your circle of friends. In other words, as you go about your life, you post or ‘tweet’ little updates so everyone knows the exciting things you’re doing like dropping off dry cleaning or stopping for a frozen yogurt. Interestingly, according to Jack Dorsey, the guy behind the Twitter service, the definition of the word twitter is, “a short burst of inconsequential information”. Short and inconsequential? Doesn’t sound terribly important. LOL.
As we travel about with our smartphones and other portable devices, our tendency is to send out short-burst messages, partly due to the fact that we’re busy and partly because the small keyboards and screens are not conducive to typing lengthy missives. This tendency towards brevity as well as informality isn’t just seeping into the workplace, it’s flooding in. Correspondence that was once well thought out and took several days is now casually fired off with little thought and at fiber optic speed. The upside of that is a much faster messaging turn-around. The downside, IMHO, is that OMG IDK WTF people are saying half the time.
When conducting business, clarity of communication is important. Legally-binding contracts are written with very specific language to ensure that all parties are clear on what is being agreed to and that takes more than 140 characters.
In addition to the potential for confusion from messaging on the fly, our increasingly mobile lifestyle introduces some other concerns. Because our portable devices are small and we carry them with us wherever we go, they often get left behind. Tens of thousands of cell phones are lost in taxi cabs every week. The odds are good that you or someone you know has lost a cell phone. If the value of the device were all you were out, the loss wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s more to this story. Today, cell phones are often smartphones and those powerful little gadgets store all sorts of valuable information. We often use smartphones for texting as well as sending and receiving email messages. Those messages frequently have confidential business information or private personal information in them. If your device gets lost and it isn’t protected by a strong password and encryption, the information on it will most certainly be compromised.
Smartphones also have numerous capabilities that can be invoked using programs run on them. Instructions can be sent remotely to your device that cause it to run programs and do things. A prime example is the ability to programmatically turn on the microphone and camera on the device. Smartphones often have Global Positioning Services (GPS) and can report your exact location. Even the pictures on your smartphone might reveal too much.
When we combine the use of portable devices like smartphones with social media, we incur other risks. Consider taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower with a post or tweet about being on a business trip or vacation with the family. You could clue business competitors that know you’re considering an acquisition that you are in France or let burglars know that you and the family are across the pond for the week.
Consider how and what you communicate. Think about what useful features you enable on your smartphone and who else those features might be useful to. Most of all, protect all your portable devices with strong passwords and keep a tight grip on them lest they fall into enemy hands.
I know, it was probably TMI but I just had to tweet that off my chest. TTFN.
To learn more about the concerns over BYOD, virtualization and keeping data safe, read parts I and II of this three part series on BYOD, virtualization and mobility.