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How Cybersecurity Hit Home for Me

Posted By Chris Chiappinelli, June 07, 2012 at 5:26 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

I once saw a scruffy kid standing outside my hotel in New York, a laptop braced against his stomach. I didn’t notice the laptop until I had nearly passed him, and it piqued my attention. Why was an 18-year-old lurking on a sidewalk on the far west side of Manhattan on a Tuesday night, scanning his laptop screen?

It seemed like a long way to go to bum a WiFi connection from the hotel. The gentleman at the front desk had informed me—as if handing me free Knicks tickets—that no password was needed to sign on. The subtext is always the same: Unlike those other hotels, we don’t trouble our guests with the inconvenience of typing apassword.

Thus, anyone within range could jump on the network for free, scruffy sidewalk loiterers included. Still, I’m too jaded to believe the kid was trolling Wikipedia for help on a social studies project. There was something at once eager and edgy in his manner.

I walked on, made a few stops for food, and headed back to the hotel. A block away I passed a mattress store and glanced inside. There he was. Sitting on a mattress with a friend, pointing at the laptop screen with an expression approaching exultation. They had just found something that made them very happy. I suspect it was the kind of information that they could profit from in one way or another. Perhaps the hotel was sending unencrypted credit card transactions over its open WiFi network. Perhaps some of the hotel’s guests had joined the network with file sharing enabled on their laptops, offering a trove of valuable files to anyone with the temerity to steal them.

I know my story would fare poorly in court. It draws on snippets of circumstance and bouts of suspicion. I called the hotel’s headquarters and related the experience, and to their credit, they pledged to consider passwords and to pay more attention to security. The payoff for me was much more lasting. Because of that encounter, I avoid wireless networks that do not require a password. I’m more conscientious about how I use my mobile phone, and about the data that I might expose via my laptop. I turn off file sharing, and avoid performing sensitive transactions on networks I don’t know.

But how many people witness an episode like the one I saw that night in New York? Data theft remains primarily an unseen threat, something as mysterious as solar flares, perhaps, or magnetic fields. Business leaders cannot expect users to educate themselves onto the right side of cybersecurity. In fact, in a recent survey of more than 700 IT professionals sponsored by security company Check Point Software Technologies, 72% of respondents said careless employees were a greater threat to the company’s cybersecurity than hackers. That’s a gaping security hole if I’ve ever seen one.

If you’re looking for guidance on securing your enterprise in the age of mobility, you might want to listen to our free on-demand webcast on the topic. I moderate a discussion with Anthony King, IT Security Manager at Raytheon, and Jay White, Enterprise Delivery Manager at First Solar, as well as Robert Barringer of AT&T. We offer some best practices to help companies gain the benefits of mobile devices while protecting against the risks. After all, there’s always a scruffy kid waiting on the corner. It’s up to us to ensure that he doesn’t get what he wants.

(You can register for (the webcast here.)

Message was edited by: Chris Chiappinelli

Written by Chris Chiappinelli

Chris Chiappinelli is the online research manager for Manufacturing Leadership. He covers enterprise software, sustainability, economic trends, workforce issues, and emerging technologies.


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