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I spy with my beady eye ...

24 Nov 2015

CISO/ISM ethics

If you had the requisite access, skills and opportunity to defraud or otherwise exploit your employer (which, I suspect, many of us in this profession do), would you be tempted to take advantage? Not even a tiny bit? What if the ‘social contract’ with your employer was seriously strained for some reason - something had soured the relationship, putting your nose out of joint, once too often? 

If you were so inclined, how much effort would you be willing to expend to 'get your own back'? Would you feel justified in causing material harm? Would you be willing to break the law? Would it matter if you worked for a bank, the government, a charity or family business?

And how cautious/subtle/sneaky would you be about it? What if the potential prize on offer was, say, more than $10 million: how tempting would that be? How much caution and risk mitigation would $10m buy you?

Stories like that make me wonder idly about my personal integrity and ethics. If everyone has their price, what’s mine? Despite my high ideals and glinting halo, I suspect, regretfully, that it is very, very large ... but probably not infinite. I'm human, after all.

Even raising and contemplating the remote possibility makes me feel very uncomfortable in my own skin, but that's not a good reason to ignore the risk. I'm not talking about straightforward greed, malice and criminality here. We obviously need to deal with those but bad apples in our midst pose different challenges. 

How on Earth can our organizations reasonably expect to counter such unlikely but severe insider threats? The guy in the news story made fundamental information security errors, clearly, but how many others slip through the net or, worse still, sneak under the radar without their indiscretions ever being discovered? 

Thinking back over my career in information security and IT audit, I’ve worked with some absolutely superb, consummate professionals to whom I’d happily trust my life (literally), plus a few distinctly dubious characters who couldn’t sell me a used car … and, to be frank, I don’t know which category worries me the most. My character assessment abilities have proven pretty good on the whole but definitely not perfect. I've been taken-in by fakes and fraudsters from time to time: social engineering is a powerful weapon. I wonder what I've missed? I wonder who I might have sleighted by doubting their word (just doing my job, you understand, but I do have a conscience).

Gary (Gary@isect.com)

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