Red Zebra Business Centre - Management Memos
April 2011 Making Measurably More For Your Business Since 1985! Page 1
Keeping things safe is a real issue !

Max Williams, Principal Consultant

Recent news reports showed that Australia's Prime Minister's email system (and other senior ministers) was recently compromised by a serious hack attack.

The attack appears to have come from the Government of China, but that is not being formally declared. What is surprising is that the attack was successful as a 'brute force' attack.

In a brute force attack, a computer feeds in an endless stream of combinations of user names and passwords. It might take a while, but eventually, the hacker gets lucky!

The hacker is usually helped by our own tidiness. We have systems in place to allocate username and passwords, and this systematic nature of the username makes it so easy to guess. Then the hacker runs a series of passwords - at the rate of millions per second - until they get in.

The standard defence against this kind of attack is used by banks and other commercial entities. Why wasn't this used to protect high level government communications? Carelessness? Incompetence? Probably neither of these things. More likely to be a cost limitation.

This incidence highlights the 'she'll be right' approach common in Australia. That might sometimes be a fun thing, but it's not funny when important data gets compromised!

When we use family names, terms of endearment, pet's names, birthdays, addresses, and other easily discovered data, it makes it easy to remember user names and passwords. Fabulous! It also makes it so wonderfully easy for the hackers!

We examined email security in a previous edition of Management Memos (March 2010), and this internet breach of the government system demonstrates the threats are real. So, shouldn't you take notice of this and improve your security?

Another common view is that no-one will care about your stuff, because you are not the government, and there is nothing of value in your email.

Your customer database is the most valuable commercial data you have. When you sell the business, that is the one thing that's unique in what you offer. It is the sum and substance, the heart, of what your business is. It is stored on your computer, and a rogue email hacked in to your system can lead to the theft of that priceless information. Think of that as unimportant if you like - but most will consider that simply unthinkable!

The main article this month shows how easily security can be compromised by ignorance. So take every step you can. After it's too late, you will have plenty of time to reflect on how easy prevention might have been.

Making Things Go Right!


hen Qantas had a mid air explosion in the engine of one of its Airbus A380s, it held the potential to be a public relations nightmare. Later, in a 'Four Corners' investigation on Australia's ABC, the way Qantas had handled the event was seen as a public relations triumph.

When the unexpected takes you by surprise,
how do you respond?

It is generally agreed that the key to this Qantas happy ending, was the immediacy of the Qantas response, and its complete openness.

Looking at 'big' events like this makes it so easy to forget that a disaster (in relation to our small and medium businesses) can happen to us!

A recent apparent security breach in our own client information system brought home how quickly things can go 'pear shaped'.

Here is what happened .....
A client 'googled' her own name and suddenly found herself looking at information that rightfully belonged to another client. How could this happen?

A previous client, unsure and lacking confidence about the internet, had allowed a young and enthusiastic employee to email some confidential material. How this this was done opened the internet door right into that client's confidential information!

Wide open access to confidential data had been caused by a young employee's lack of internet understanding.

Fortunately, only that piece of information (which wasn't significant), and only for that client was involved. Unfortunately, it appeared to compromise our whole system. While there was no actual harm done, it appeared to be a major breach!

When disaster happens to you, there are four things to remember.

1. It's probably nowhere as bad as it appears.

We always think the worst. So, when something goes wrong, we automatically see the event in the worst possible light. With sober thought and reflection, you'll probably find things are nowhere as bad as they seem.

In our case, the 'first sight' thought was that Google had indexed our entire client information system. It's really impossible to know whether that had been true or not. It should not have been poossible. However, It was possible to identify a single thoughtless act which had brought about this crisis of confidence.

Closer examination showed that all the hours of

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testing we had done had borne fruit, and further subsequent testing showed that the system had not been breached.

Once you know your worse fears have not been realized, you can begin a systematic response.
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