Adam comments on some breach commentary, and quotes Nick Owen saying that breaches are a sign of incompetence.
I can’t let this stand un-commented-upon. I believe that that is a dangerous comment, and one that needs to be squashed early. It’s like saying that a bug tracking system with lots of bugs in it is a sign of engineering incompetence. It actually means the opposite. A truly incompetent management team wouldn’t know they’d been breached. A slightly less incompetent team would bury it under the rug. This is true for software developers as well as operations people.
This is a very dangerous comment because it rewards the truly incompetent who don’t know how screwed up they are. It is a dangerous comment because it rewards the mendacious, who hide that they’ve been breached — or who design their operations so they won’t know when they’re breached. Stop. You’re going to set us backwards if you keep that up.
It doesn’t matter how good you are, some day you will be breached. Accept that. As a consumer, that’s a mildly unpleasant thing to think of, but it’s true. However, you want people who lose your data to have the wit to know they’ve lost it, and the morality to own up to it.
I also want to comment on Allan Friedman’s comment about Iron Mountain, as I’ve noticed the same thing, that many breaches involved Iron Mountain losing tapes. But I’m not an economist, I’m a guy who’s spent times in operational groups, and I have an alternative hypothesis.
Let us assume an organization that makes daily backups and sends them to a data warehouse. Let us suppose that the tape monkeys have a Very Bad Day. Sam’s on vacation. Ginger broke up with her boyfriend and came in late. Two tapes verified bad and had to be re-done, Networking misconfigured something and you couldn’t get to C Building at all. The Iron Mountain guys come in to get the tapes from you, and you tell them the horror story. They say hey, no problem, just give them what you have. They’ll take it off to the warehouse, and as long as there’s no disaster tomorrow, it’ll all be taken care of in the next incremental. The CIO never has to know. Whew! Thanks, Iron Mountain! You’re a life saver.
Iron Mountain is being smart. The real customer is the supervisor of the tape monkeys, and if you help him shine, he helps you shine. Alas, they’re being smart until lost data is not simply a gap in the backup history, it’s a breach. Then this habit of mutual back-scratching all falls apart. If someone does an audit and finds out that a backup of the Order Database is missing, Iron Mountain takes the fall. All the paperwork says that the database was backed up, put onto tape 1723-A5, and sent to the warehouse. And therefore, so it was. Iron Mountain can’t say, “Um, actually, for years now, we’ve been covering for our customers and letting them claim data was in the warehouse when we all know it wasn’t.” They just have to take it on the chin.
You know what? The real customers, the tape monkeys who have been let off the hook yet again know that Iron Mountain kept them out of even bigger trouble. They know that the Iron Mountain guys can’t let them hand over an empty box any more. But they aren’t going to switch to another company, either.
My hypothesis could be wrong. I don’t know if it is. I can’t admit to ever having been in a situation like my hypothesis. I am, however, a cynic, and I know that if Iron Mountain were in the habit of losing tapes, it may or may not show up in their stock price. But if they were in the habit of making the tape monkeys look more competent than they actually are, it is consistent with observed phenomena. It doesn’t mean my hypothesis is right; heck, the magic blue smoke theory of semiconductor physics is consistent with observed phenomena. But when I noticed Iron Mountain showing up in a number of breaches, the smoke I smelled seemed to have a hint of electrolytic capacitor in it, and whiff of insulation.