Charlie & Lola’s Information Security Adventure

lauren_childBeing a frequent traveller, be it train, bus, car or plane, I often get to see people working in all of these environments to one extent or another. From seeing people’s laptops on the front seat of their cars to leaving them unattended in travel lounges, I have seen all sorts of behaviour that we, as information security professionals, would see as unforgivable. We regularly question ourselves as to why this happens, especially when the effects can be so dramatic and have direct impacts on our professional and personal lives.

My most recent example was just last week, sitting opposite a woman who was working on her laptop and referring to a sheaf of A3 colourful papers. They had the unmistakable artwork of Lauren Child, a children’s author and illustrator. As a father of a ten year old and an eight year I recognised the artwork and style immediately as the author of Charlie and Lola, some of my children’s favourite story characters. The papers in questions had plenty of hand drawn mark up on them suggesting this was in the final stages of editing and layout prior to printing, the story itself centering around one Elmore Green who was jealous at the arrival of a younger sibling into his family. It all ends well of course, with Elmore having someone to snuggle with at the end of  the book.

Three things surprised me. Firstly, the way in which the papers in question were left out of the direct sight of the woman concerned, either on a seat on the opposite side of the walkway, or even underneath her own seat (and very accessible from behind). Secondly I was able to discern a large amount of detail from the book in a very short period of time; this is of course partly down to the nature of the book itself, but also, because each page was carefully moved to in turn and then placed somewhere I could review it and even photograph it. Finally, I was alarmed that someone like Lauren Child, who has a very unique and successful place in children’s literature would allow an as yet unpublished book be revealed in public in such a way as this.

Fingers crossed for Elmore Green!

Fingers crossed for Elmore Green!

This is of course very serious for Lauren Child and her publishers; why was this person allowed to take large copies of this book into a public space? If they knew it needed to be worked on in a train or other public space why weren’t electronic versions made available? Or had they even considered the fact that someone could have easily stolen the manuscript and copied it for an earlier release to capture their particular market?

The implications for UK PLC are probably not that great, and yet examples like this are played out across the country whenever people travel and feel they are in ‘safe‘ environments, with a dangerous cumulative effect for the country. The combined effect of actions like this could potentially add up to the millions in lost opportunities and lost work.  It reminded me of Wendy Nather’s response to a question about public apathy to security, and her surprising yet eerily accurate response was;

I don’t think that society in general will stand up and do something about security until people start dying in enough numbers that it could happen to them individually and not just organizations because we don’t care about organizations.

I sincerely hope Lauren Child has not been hurt by this incident financially or otherwise, she has given too much joy to my children to wish that; but if she reads this I do hope she feels sufficiently motivated to insist on stronger controls around the management of her manuscripts from her publishers.  If you would like some help doing that Lauren, feel free to contact me!