Risk // Compliance
8/6/2013
04:57 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Zoo Dog

A personal tale of documentation failure

On the occasion of my recent birthday, my mother brought me an unusual gift. It was a faded drawing I had made when I was 5 years old. She said the drawing was one I made of my younger brother, John, complete with ribs and heart. The faded paper had all ten single-digit numbers carefully written, as well as these two words: "ZOO DOG."

My mother believes I was calling my brother "Zoo Dog" instead of "John." However, I think perhaps, just like the numbers, these were simply two words I happened to know how to spell, and I merely wanted to express the range of my skills. I mean, I was five and this was long ago before all five-year-olds were brilliant writers, mathematicians, and athletes.

Writing two words, even with only three letters each, was probably a point of pride for me. And Mom hadn't concluded I was renaming my brother, "1234567890," even if the argument for it was almost as solid.

What did I really mean when I wrote "Zoo Dog?" No one really knows for sure, not even my mother, who was a competent supervisor at the time. Not even me, the author.

So what in the world does this have to do with technology, security, or compliance? It demonstrates an important lesson about documentation. No matter how obvious documentation may seem to be when created, over time the meaning can be lost, unless the documentation was systematic, thorough, and maintained.

I'm the author of a document that might be about my brother John the Zoo Dog. Or it may not have anything to do with him. I'm sure it was clear to me what Zoo Dog meant when I wrote it. Now, I'm not only unsure, I'm guessing wildly. And I'm not going to figure it out either. (Frankly, we're working on a guess that the drawing is even my brother.)

A similar loss of meaning commonly happens in systems and compliance documentation. In fact, few will admit it, but what I will now call the Zoo Dog Documentation Issue is actually quite common in many organizations that have invested in documentation for security or compliance.

Companies often spend significant time and money to create crucial business operations and security documentation. All too often, this documentation is created in response to an upcoming audit or review. After the audit, the documentation is often neglected, soon becoming obsolete or unclear as memories fade, new projects gain attention, technology changes, and people move on in their careers.

Take the documents out of routine use for long enough and the entire investment can easily be wasted. In time, even the original author may no longer recall the meaning or intent. And if the original author doesn't know, why would anyone else know with any accuracy? These documents must then be recreated, or at least subjected to extensive verification, before they will be relevant again, more than duplicating their original cost and in the meantime leaving your business open to real vulnerabilities.

Do you have old, vague Zoo Dog documentation at your business? What did it cost your organization to create, and, more important, if you don't update and maintain it, do you know the extent of the potential risks and consequences it has for you today?

Whether I call my brother John or Zoo Dog won't really make much difference, since he knows the story and will recognize I'm talking to him. But outdated and confusing documentation can cause a serious problem for you and your business, since it can render your organization uncompliant, unsecure, and in some cases, unstable.

Glenn S. Phillips now wonders what to call his brother. He is the president of Forte' Incorporated where he works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. Glenn is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish. Glenn works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. The Founder and Sr. Consultant of Forte' Incorporated, Glenn and his team work with business leaders to support growth, increase profits, and address ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Becca Lipman
50%
50%
Becca Lipman,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/14/2013 | 5:56:20 PM
re: Zoo Dog
You make an excellent point, illustrated with an equally excellent story I'm sure every one of us can relate to in business and in life. Especially when turnover is high companies can quickly compile Zoo Dog information that takes up valuable server space.

I can only hope you've created a globally adopted industry term. "John, what is the meaning of this report?" "I'm not sure sir, must be Zoo Dog."
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Partner Perspectives
What's This?
In a digital world inundated with advanced security threats, Intel Security seeks to transform how we live and work to keep our information secure. Through hardware and software development, Intel Security delivers robust solutions that integrate security into every layer of every digital device. In combining the security expertise of McAfee with the innovation, performance, and trust of Intel, this vision becomes a reality.

As we rely on technology to enhance our everyday and business life, we must too consider the security of the intellectual property and confidential data that is housed on these devices. As we increase the number of devices we use, we increase the number of gateways and opportunity for security threats. Intel Security takes the “security connected” approach to ensure that every device is secure, and that all security solutions are seamlessly integrated.
Featured Writers
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading's October Tech Digest
Fast data analysis can stymie attacks and strengthen enterprise security. Does your team have the data smarts?
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2012-2413
Published: 2014-10-20
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in the ja_purity template for Joomla! 1.5.26 and earlier allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the Mod* cookie parameter to html/modules.php.

CVE-2012-5244
Published: 2014-10-20
Multiple SQL injection vulnerabilities in Banana Dance B.2.6 and earlier allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary SQL commands via the (1) return, (2) display, (3) table, or (4) search parameter to functions/suggest.php; (5) the id parameter to functions/widgets.php, (6) the category parameter to...

CVE-2012-5694
Published: 2014-10-20
Multiple SQL injection vulnerabilities in Bulb Security Smartphone Pentest Framework (SPF) before 0.1.3 allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary SQL commands via the (1) agentPhNo, (2) controlPhNo, (3) agentURLPath, (4) agentControlKey, or (5) platformDD1 parameter to frameworkgui/attach2Agents.p...

CVE-2012-5695
Published: 2014-10-20
Multiple cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerabilities in Bulb Security Smartphone Pentest Framework (SPF) 0.1.2 through 0.1.4 allow remote attackers to hijack the authentication of administrators for requests that conduct (1) shell metacharacter or (2) SQL injection attacks or (3) send an SMS m...

CVE-2012-5696
Published: 2014-10-20
Bulb Security Smartphone Pentest Framework (SPF) before 0.1.3 does not properly restrict access to frameworkgui/config, which allows remote attackers to obtain the plaintext database password via a direct request.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Follow Dark Reading editors into the field as they talk with noted experts from the security world.