We turned around, and there he was… gone!

This is a picture taken in Starbucks, just a few minutes ago. Can you guess what’s missing?
Why the owner felt it was a good idea to go to the toilet (while carefully taking his iPhone with him, because otherwise it might get stolen!), leaving his laptop in a busy room where it could be easily removed is beyond me. It was made worse because when I peeked around the screen, it was also not screen locked.
With so much noise and argument going around the infosec community at the moment around security awareness the lazy conclusion would be that all users are idiots and need their hand holding all the time before they hurt themselves with their private data. Of course it is never that simple but it is no less infuriating to see this kind of attitude in practise. Where do we go from here in trying to avoid these situations?
I have a colleague who likes to highlight that we should consider our laptops and tablets and other various devices as “bathroom buddies”. I didn’t like this term at first (my knee-jerk reaction against the American use of the term bathroom), but it really does make sense. When in a public place such as a cafe, train etc and you need the toilet or a break, take your equipment with you! It is a simple alliterated phrase that sticks in the mind, makes you smile and therefore might actually make someone change their behaviour.
On the subject of humour, there was an XKCD cartoon very recently that summed this up perfectly.
The point is that this individual who left himself logged in could have had untold damage done to his personal and professional reputation if I was so inclined. Facebook posts, Tweets, work emails, Amazon orders etc could all potentially have caused him grief. Sure, after the fact he could probably “tidy up” the mess, but why put yourself in this position?
In the security awareness debates, system design is often touted as the way ahead, and in actual fact I think this may have come to the aid of our hapless coffee drinker, if he was lucky. The laptop itself looks like a new MacBook Pro, possible a Retina given the new style charger. That would mean he would be running Lion or Mountain Lion, which means FileVault is installed, although not enabled by default. If it was enabled and I ran out of the cafe with his laptop chances are when I sat down at the nearest park bench to check my prize the laptop would have locked and required a password. There is a good chance there that his data would be secure and encrypted. The same would be true if it was a Windows 7 or 8 laptop. The problem here though is that the key phrase above is “not enabled by default”. It’s great these operating systems now come with encryption built in, but there aren’t even annoying prompts a la Microsoft that, for instance, I don’t have an anti virus program installed; it is left entirely to the user to be educated and security savvy enough to enable it. I have joked on this blog before that encryption today is at the same level of anti virus of twenty years ago (Dr Solomon’s anyone?). Today, I would wager virtually everyone knows about anti-virus, and in fact it is often bundled and enabled by default on new laptops. (I am not going to take this opportunity to talk about the efficacy of anti virus as an endpoint protector!). When will encryption become such a commodity that you are an oddity if you don’t have it?
This isn’t a particularly racy topic, but it is one that is played out every day in cafes around the world. As every teacher will tell you, when you get the fundamentals right, the rest will follow far more easily. This person really should have known better, but when will we be at a point that he wouldn’t have had to?

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About Thom Langford

An information security professional, award winning security blogger and industry commentator. Available as a speaking head and presenter on topics relating to information security, risk management and compliance.

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