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03:40 PM
Tom Smith
Tom Smith

Credibility On Trial

There are two high-profile trials going on this week, both testing the credibility of IT security.

There are two high-profile trials going on this week, both testing the credibility of IT security.In one case--being covered exclusively by Sharon Gaudin of TechWeb and InformationWeek--a former systems administrator from financial giant UBS PaineWebber is accused of planting a logic bomb that caused millions in losses at his former employer.

The trial puts at least one point of IT credibility under the microscope: the strength of UBS's security infrastructure. That is, was UBS the victim of a malicious attacker from the inside, or, as the defense contends, was its security so porous that any two-bit security attack could take down its trading network? UBS has already failed one credibility test: Its request to have the trial closed to the press and public to avoid "serious" embarrassment and injury was rejected by the judge.

In the other "trial," the very credibility of many organizations that handle sensitive customer data is playing out. As we've seen in countless cases over the last 18 months, the "defendants" are guilty of ineptitude, negligence, and misleading or delayed responses in handling the data that in many ways defines an individual's identity. As you know by now, Ernst & Young recently admitted--in a stunningly slow, weakly rationalized way--that it lost Hotels.com's customer data.

In what is easily the most troubling disclosure yet, however, the Veterans Administration is fessing up that its massive data breach is far worse than previously disclosed. The VA not only lost data on tens of millions of veterans, but at least 2 million active-duty military personnel now have the security of their identities in question as well.

In addition to the obvious security blunders behind the loss, it's another major instance of the government inflicting its bureaucratic incompetence on the military personnel who deserve it least: It was recently reported that soldiers were being forced to repay enlistment bonuses after their injuries prevented them from completing their required time of service. The Government Accountability Office also says the Department of Defense has aggressively pursued repayment of debts incurred by soldiers due to factors including war injuries and its own "broken" (GAO's term) military pay system.

Of course, the VA made the obligatory statement that there have been no reports of identity theft. Given the series of IT missteps that resulted in this data being lost in the first place, and then the slow, piecemeal, reactive disclosure of information that ensued, does this statement carry any credibility? You be the judge.

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