Too Secure

There’s an old joke in IT that the Security Office’s job isn’t done until you can’t do yours.

There’s unfortunately at times some truth to that.  And it can be a bigger problem than you might initially think.

A recent example comes to mind. I have one client that has setup fairly strict security precautions. I’m generally in favor of most of them, even if at times they’re inconvenient. But recently, they made some changes that were, frustrating to say the least and potentially problematic.  Let me explain.

Basically, at times I have to transfer a file created on a secured VM I control to one of their servers (that in theory is a sandbox in their environment that I can play in). Now, I obviously can’t just cut and paste it. Or perhaps that’s not so obvious, but yeah, for various reasons, through their VDI, they have C&P disabled. I’m ok with that. It does lessen the chance of someone accidentally cutting and pasting the wrong file to the wrong machine.

So what I previously did was something that seemed strange, but worked. I’d email the file to myself and then open a browser session on the said machine and get the file there. Not ideal and I’ll admit there are security implications, but it does cause the file to get virus scanned at at least two places and I’m very unlikely to send myself a dangerous file.

Now, for my webclient on this machine, I tended to use Firefox. It was kept up to date and as far as I know, up until recently, on their approved list of programs.  Great. This worked for well over a year.

Then, one day last week, I go to the server in question and there’s no Firefox. I realized this was related to an email I had seen earlier in the week about their security team removing Firefox from a different server, “for security reasons”. Now arguably that server didn’t need Firefox, but still, my server was technically MY sandbox. So, I was stuck with IE. Yes, their security team thinks IE is more secure than Firefox.  Ok, no problem I’ll use IE.

I go ahead, enter my userid and supersecret password. Nothing happens. Try a few times since maybe I got the password wrong. Nope. Nothing.  So I tried something different to confirm my theory and get the dreaded, “Your browser does not support cookies” error. Aha, now I’m on to something.

I jump into the settings and try several different things to enable cookies completely. I figure I can return things to the way they want after I get my file. No joy. Despite enabling every applicable options, it wouldn’t override the domain settings and cookies remained disabled.  ARGH.

So, next I figured I’d re-download FF and use that. It’s my box after all (in theory).

I get the install downloaded, click on it and it starts to install. Great! What was supposed to be a 5 minute problem of getting the file I needed to the server is about done. It’s only taken me an hour or two, but I can smell success.

Well, turns out what I was smelling was more frustration. Half-way through the install it locks up. I kill the process and go back to the file I downloaded and try again. BUT, the file isn’t there. I realize after some digging that their security software is automatically deleting certain downloads, such as the Firefox install.

So I’m back to dead in the water.

I know, I’ll try to use Dropbox or OneDrive. But… both require cookies to get setup.  So much for that.

I’ve now spend close to 3 hours trying to get this file to their server.  I was at a loss as to how to solve this. So I did what I often do in situations like this. I jumped in the shower to think.

Now, I finally DID manage to find a way, but I’m actually not going to mention it here. The how isn’t important (though keeping the details private are probably at least a bit important.)

Anyway, here’s the thing. I agree with trying to make servers secure. We in IT have too many data breaches as it is. BUT, there is definitely a problem with making things TOO secure. Actually two problems. The first is the old joke about how a computer encased in cement at the bottom of the ocean is extremely secure. But also unusable.  So, their security measures almost got us to the state of making an extremely secure  but useless computer.

But the other problem is more subtle. If you make things too secure, your users are going to do what they can to bypass your security in order to get their job done. They’re not trying to be malicious, but they may end up making things MORE risky by enabling services that shouldn’t be installed or by installing software you didn’t authorize, thus leaving you in an unknown security state (for the record, I didn’t do either of the above.)

Also, I find it frustrating when steps like the above are taken, but some of the servers in their environment don’t have the latest service packs or security fixes. So, they’re fixing surface issues, but ignoring deeper problems. While I was “nice” in what I did; i.e. I technically didn’t violate any of their security measures in the end, I did work to bypass them. A true hacker most likely isn’t going to be nice. They’re going to go for the gold and go through one of at least a dozen unpatched security holes to gain control of the system in question. So as much as I can live with their security precautions of locking down certain software, I’d also like to see them actually patch the machines.

So, security is important, but let’s not make it so tight people go to extremes to by pass it.


She’s smart and good looking.

Now, if you work from home like I do, this exercise won’t really work, but if you work in an office, look around at your coworkers and start to notice what gender they present as. Most likely you’ll notice a lot of men and a few women.

Sexism is alive and well in the tech world. Unfortunately.

We hear a lot about efforts (which I support by the way) like Girls and Data and Girls Who Code. These are great attempts at addressing some of the gender issues in the industry.  We’ve probably all heard about the “Google Manifesto” (and no, I’m not linking to it, since most of the “science” in it is complete crap and I don’t want to give it any more viewership than it has had. But here’s a link to the problems with it.)

We know that grammar school and middle girls have a strong interest in the STEM field. And yet, by the time college graduation rolls around, we have a disproportionately smaller number of them in the computer sciences for example.  So the above attempts to keep them interested help, but honestly only address part of the problem.

The other side is us men.  Yes, us.  We can tell our daughters all day long, “you’re smart, you can program”.  “You too can be a DBA!” and more. But what do we tell our sons?  We need to tell the that women can program. We should be telling them about Ada Lovelace and Admiral Grace Hopper. We should be making sure they realize that boys aren’t inherently better at STEM then girls.  We should be making sure they recognize their own language and actions have an impact.

What do we do ourselves when it comes to the office environment? Do we talk too much? Evidence suggests we do.

Do we subconsciously ignore the suggestions of our female coworkers or perhaps subconsciously give more support or credence to the suggestions of our male coworkers?  While I can’t find a cite right now, again evidence again suggests we do.

Who is represented at meetings?  Are they a good ol’ boys network?  Who do we lunch with, both at work and when we network?

If you’re a member of a user group that has speakers, what does the ratio of speakers look like to you? Do they reflect groups ratio? Do they reflect the ratio of the industry?

I think it’s great that we have programs such as Girls who Code and Girls and Data, but we as men have to work on ourselves and work on our actions and reactions.

Some suggestions: “Sometimes, simply shut up.” I’ve started to do this more, especially if I’m in a group of women. LISTEN. And you know what, if you’re thinking right now, “well duh… because women talk so much I’d never get a word in anyway” you’re falling victim to the cliches and perpetuating the problem.

Support the women you work with. If they have a good idea, make sure it gets the same discussion as other ideas. And if one of your coworkers tries to co-opt it as their own, call them on it.  If you have a coworker (and I’ve had these) that is continually cutting off women in meetings, call them on it.

Seek out women speakers for your user groups. I’d suggest for example Rie Irish and her talk “Let her Finish”.  I asked Rie to speak at our local user group. Partly because of serendipity (I contacted one of our women members to let her know about the talk) we got the local Women in Technology group to advertise our meeting and ended up with a number of new members.

And finally, the title. Watch your language. Unless you’re working at a modelling agency or similar, you probably should never be introducing a coworker as “She’s smart and good looking.”  Think about it, would you ever introduce a male coworker as “He’s a great DBA and handsome too boot!”  Your coworkers, male or female are just that, coworkers in a professional setting, treat them as such.

Two final thoughts:

  1. If somehow this blog post has impacted you more than the brilliant posts of Rie Irish, Mindy Curnutt, or others who have spoken on sexism in the industry, I’d suggest you examine your biases, not give credit to my writing.
  2. If you have suggestions for women speakers for my local user group, especially local ones who can make the second Monday of the month, please let me know.





Comfort Zone

Humans are by nature, a creature of habit and familiarity. We’ll often go to the same restaurant time after time, not necessarily because it’s the best, but because we’re most familiar with it. One reason why McDonald’s is so popular is NOT because they serve the best hamburgers, but because you’re pretty comfortable, no matter where you go, knowing that you’ll get exactly the same hamburger every time.

However, if you never have anything other than McDonald’s you can miss out on some wonderful food.

I often try to get out of my comfort zone. Sometimes we have to do so to grow. Of course everyone’s comfort zone is different. I love to crawl through holes in the ground (and please, keep it simple, we call it caving, not spelunking.) To me, that’s a comfortable environment.

But recently I’ve been doing something outside of my comfort zone; I’ve been taking a sales training class. The truth is, being a consultant, as much as I love the tech side, I really need to sell myself. Sales IS part of what I need to do. And I’m not comfortable doing it.

But, to expand I have to learn how. And I have to admit, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been worth it.

Another thing I’m doing to step a wee bit out of my comfort zone is to schedule a weekly blog post. Rather than do it hit or miss, I’m going to try to make it more formal.

So, what have you done to step out of your comfort zone lately?  How has it worked for you?

Oh and if you’re ever in upstate New York and want to go caving, let me know.