Tag Archives: Privacy

“On this day”….

…I pruned my Facebook postings.

One of the things I do each day is I take a moment and pop over to the “On this day” page on Facebook.

I do it for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it is kind of fun to see what was going on in the past. So I take a look over it to see what’s there.

Second, after I look it over, I go through and delete nearly every posting I’ve made there. I delete nearly every posting someone has put on my timeline. And I remove nearly every tag that someone has made of me. I only keep a very, very few postings that are really fun or somehow meaningful to me.

I do this as an exercise in data retention hygiene. There no need to keep all old postings, so I delete them.

Yes, if Facebook or someone wanted to, they could go to backups/archives and restore the posts. But I don’t need to make getting to old posts any easier than it needs to be. If someone really wants to know that I said I was eating a cheese sandwich at 10 AM PDT on Friday September 7, 2007, I’m going to make them work for it.

This points to a best practice we all need to follow in the era of seemingly “always there social media”: pruning. It’s a form of social media decluttering. But it’s also our personal version of the best practice of only keeping essential data for as long as we need to.

It can be hard to do this with social media. In some ways, social media is more like a photo album. But the best photo albums keep the best, most meaningful pictures.

There’s a philosophical piece here too. It’s a daily exercise in not just remembering the past, but remembering to let go of it. It reminds me that everything is transitory. We don’t have forever: it’s important to remember that too.

 

“Hi We’re from the Government, We’re Here to Help You”

Yesterday the President announced a new executive order “to promote information-sharing within the private sector and with the government” around cybersecurity (I HATE that term).

I work in the private sector he’s talking about and have for nearly 20 years now. And I’ve seen and been part of a lot of really important collaboration and information sharing between government agencies and the private sector.

So I generally think this sort of thing is a good thing. The bad guys of all stripes always benefit when dealing with divided defenders.

But I don’t think this can and will be as successful as it could be or needs to be.

Because the fact is that in the security and privacy community, there’s a lot of lingering suspicion and bad feeling around the activities that government agencies are alleged to have engaged in as a result of the Snowden disclosures.

Information sharing will only happen and so only works where there’s trust. And a lot of people I know in the security and privacy space lost a lot of trust in the US government in the wake of those claims.

And that trust hasn’t been rebuilt or regained at all because there still hasn’t been an upfront discussion about what is and isn’t going on. And in that vacuum, a lot of people are assuming the worst, rightly or wrongly.

I’ve taken a very moderate stance on this all myself. I’ve worked with some very good people with intelligence backgrounds so don’t fall into the facile “the NSA is evil camp”. But I also don’t fall into the other, “the NSA can do no wrong” camp either. My views are more nuanced with an underlying respect, gratitude and appreciation for those people willing to do hard, thankless work to protect us (having done a lot of that myself).

Regardless of my own views on this all though, the fact remains that for any information sharing program to succeed, there has to be trust. And it’s hard to argue there’s trust to fuel information sharing when one of the biggest, most important players is involved in a lawsuit to prevent having to disclose information it believes it shouldn’t have to.

In the end, it’s too bad because the horrible way the Snowden disclosures have been handled in terms of a response will undermine what is an important initiative that ultimately will benefit everyone.

This is yet another example that how you handle and respond to what you do is at least (if not more) important than what you do itself.

A Trip to the Doctor

Or, more accurately, the local urgent care clinic.

I had to make a trip there today to get looked at for the latest crud that I’ve been battling for the last week.

My check-in was a good example of how you have to be assertive to protect your security and privacy these days. Sometimes, very uncomfortably so.

While I was doing the usual check-in paperwork, the admissions clerk asked me, “Can I get your driver’s license to scan please?”

I asked, “why do you need that?”

She replied, “Because the copy we have is expired.”

I looked puzzled and she rotated her monitor for me to see the black and white scanned copy of my old, expired license.

It’s been years since I’ve been here, but I don’t remember them ever telling me they were taking a scan of my driver’s license on check-in. Probably one time when I was sick I wasn’t paying enough attention to ask my usual “Why do you need it, what are you going to do with it” questions.

I explained to her that I wasn’t comfortable with her taking a scan. I was happy, I said, to show it to them, but not to retain a copy.

She then said that the point was to protect my identity. I said, I understand but holding that information is itself a threat to my identity. I said, when this clinic’s information is stolen like Anthem’s was it will be harder to steal my identity since they won’t have my drivers’ license.

She said she understood and we moved on in the check-in process.

Later, I was chatting about identity theft to try and lighten things after having to say “no”. While we were talking she told me how she was herself the victim of identity theft. Someone stole mail out of her mailbox and was able to steal her identity. She said it was finally cleared up but it took years and included a knock at the door at 3AM from a sheriff looking to serve a warrant on her meant for the identity thief.

It was a good exercise in real world security and privacy protection. It underscores how you have to be active and sometimes push back, even to the point of seeming like you’re being difficult. It underscores too how you have to always be paying attention since I can’t recall how they got my old driver’s license into the system in the first place. And it also shows that identity theft is very real, very prevalent, very hard to untangle, and has nasty consequences. Finally, it reminds me that we can’t just focus on the digital side of things. Physical mail theft and phone scams are old but still delivering; so they’re still active threats.

It really reinforces the fact that I think real-time identity theft monitoring and monthly checking of accounts and records are critical for all of us.

It really is dangerous out there. It really is hard to do the right thing, even when you know what it is.

At least some of us have job security.

Interviews on the Anthem Data Breach

I had a chance recently to talk with reporters from the Associated Press and the Hill about the recent Anthem data breach and what that means for online security and privacy for healthcare and what people need to know about it.

Is your doctor’s office the most dangerous place for data?

Anthem hack raises ObamaCare concerns

Ten Years After Bill Gates’ Trustworthy Computing Memo

Ten years ago yesterday, Bill Gates sent out his Trustworthy Computing memo that marked a significant change in the culture at Microsoft and put security, privacy and reliability at the center of the company as ideals.

I was at Microsoft as part of the Microsoft Security Response Center when that came out. And until I left Microsoft in December 2010, I was involved in security and privacy. So I have a former insider’s long-term view of what that was all like.

As my former colleagues are marking the occasion I’m sharing my own thoughts on what it meant then and what it means for the future.

Here are my comments in Robert X. Cringly’s article “PC security: We’ve come a long way, baby“. And a longer write-up by me over at Betanews “10 years after Bill Gates’ Trustworthy Computing memo: What it meant for Microsoft and why every tech company needs one“.

It was something to be a part of, but the world is different today. Part of my take on it is how this is still relevant in this different world.

Data Privacy Trifecta of Badness

One of my areas of speciality and focus has been managing data security and privacy crises.

So it’s been an interesting month to watch with three different incidents:

  1. The Epsilon data breach which saw the loss of customer names and email addresses for over thirty of Epsilon’s clients.
  2. The Apple iPhone tracking issue.
  3. The Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) outage and data breach.

While these issues affect different companies and different industries, all three major incidents are similar in terms of the shortcomings of their crisis communications response. In all three cases, there is a distinct lack of simple, clear, proactive, authoritative information coming from the affected companies.

With Sony it’s a slow, seemingly grudging response. With Apple it’s a backpedaling response with a hint of “you don’t understand”. And with Epsilon and its clients, it’s an uncoordinated, scattered and confusing response.

All three situations are bigger crises and bigger hits to reputation than they needed to be and that’s because of how the communication has been handled (or not). In fact, in the case of Sony, they’ve managed to obscure the fact that they’re doing the right thing from a technical point of view with their communications. There’s a lost opportunity there for them to get credit for a good technical response.

There’s a lot that can be analyzed with each of these situations but at a high-level, it’s good to take a step back and notice that there’s a trend here towards poor communications around data privacy incidents taking shape.