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Fancy a Cheap Pen?

How much does good information security cost? Rather less than a cheap pen by all accounts.

I’m putting the finishing touches to a thirty-page report on ‘Trustworthy Computing’ in time for next week’s InfoSecurity Europe Show in London and I see that the event organisers have been conducting research of their own, outside Waterloo Station, a short walk away from all manner of interesting buildings which line the South bank of the Thames.

The second annual InfoSecurity Europe survey reveals nine in ten (90%) of office workers questioned outside the station, are prepared to exchange their computer password for a cheap pen, compared with 65% in 2002. This rather begs the question of what these people would be prepared to reveal in exchange for a bottle of Scotch or a pair of cup final tickets? The latter because men, it appears, are rather more likely to volunteer their password with a 95% success rate, in contrast with the ladies who need a little more convincing and are 10% less likely to offer a total stranger their network password outside a London railway station.

Just as worrying for any business, is the apparent willingness of those surveyed (80%) to take confidential information with them when they leave a company and the admission by two thirds of the respondents that they emailed colleagues images and content – 91% of men and 40% of women – that could expose an employer to potential litigation. Remember Claire Swires?

Given that people invariably use the same password for everything, office, bank, email and so on, it becomes easier to understand why ‘identity theft’ is now a soaring problem and shouldn’t forget to mention, that the all time favourite, ‘password’ still remains, yes you guessed it, people’s favourite password, along with their football team or their birthday.

We can talk about the notion of ‘Trustworthy Computing’ until we are blue in the face but not all the security in the world, together with the arrival of perfect Microsoft software, is going to defeat the industry’s worst enemy, our own stupidity.

What I find most depressing about this survey is that after all the column inches and media comment that accompanied the worst twelve months in information security history; the problem appears to be growing at its weakest point, the human factor. It’s hardly credible that a little clever social engineering and the offer of a ballpoint pen risks compromising one of the many businesses and government departments that cluster around Waterloo Station.

It does rather make any real concept of information security sound like an impossible dream don’t you think?


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