Friction Makes Us Stronger

The Greatest: Many would argue Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player who ever lived. But are you aware he didn’t win a championship for the first SIX YEARS he played professional ball? Michael Jordan was a great individual player. But he couldn’t have achieved all he did without the help of those around him.

Can’t Do It Alone: Obviously, Jordan couldn’t win championships by himself. He needed help. Enter Scotty Pippin. Pippin was a great compliment to Jordan’s aggressive style. But even then, the Bulls still couldn’t get past the Detroit Pistons. Slowly, the team added additional players and new head coach. And they beat the Pistons.

You need to surround yourself with helpers too.

Helpers or Rivals: Helpers don’t always appear as you would expect. Sometimes, they might even look like rivals. Rivals provide friction. And friction makes you stronger.

Len Bias: Lenny Bias was friction for a young Michael Jordan. When Jordan and Bias were in college, they were opponents. On February 19, 1984 their teams faced off for what would be their last game together. Bias playing for Maryland and Jordan for the Tarheels. Jordan was more experienced. But Bias was clearly getting better by the day.

We can only speculate that the presence of Bias playing against Jordan and the Tarheels was a significant motivator for Jordan. But given Jordan’s competitive nature it wouldn’t be a stretch.

Rivalry That Wasn’t: In a USA Today article about the rivalry that wasn’t I found this quote from Michael Wilbon,

“Those of us who had the pleasure of watching him believe Bias would have been to Jordan what [Larry] Bird was to Magic [Johnson] — a true natural, equally fierce rival, the singular decade long rival Jordan never had.”

Need Friction: In life sometimes the help we need to achieve greatness comes in the form of opposition, or friction. We achieve greatness, not from a “tensionless state” as Viktor Frankl said.

Cyber Slow Down: In terms of cybersecurity, slowing things down and creating a little controlled friction is necessary so we can review software changes before they are made. Moving too fast to update a server (for example) or installing a new application without running it in a test environment can lead to disaster.

Slow Down to Go Faster and Avoid Pain: Two CyberEye clients this week experienced something like this. One client requested a new program installed. After review we found it was installing other software in the background that might be malicious. We were able to avert potential disaster. Another customer installed an update to a critical server without testing it first (against our recommendation). That outcome wasn’t trouble free. A brief test beforehand would have saved hours of headache.

Yes, Test It: When your business depends on your computers, slow down and take time to test new software. Testing your software in a controlled environment first adds a little friction to your workflow. But it just might be the friction you need.

Layers of Defense Against the Plague

Plague. What an ugly word. So ugly, indeed, it is rarely used to depict anything less than apocalyptic. Now another word has unmasked our distant socializing. COVID-19.

My daughter (now living in distant Texas) told me over the phone she is SICK of COVID-19. Not with. Of. She came down with a cold last week and had to get a COVID-19 test. Just to be sure. She was livid. She threw her steel water bottle at the tile floor.

Your Immune System: I spoke to a friend in the medical field last week about how the COVID-19 vaccine works, and how our immune system uses it. He explained there are several layers of defense inside the body.

The Skin: The first layer of defense is the skin. It keeps most pathogens out of the body. Problem is, there are a couple of orifices through which a pathogen may enter. Primarily the nose and mouth.

Innate & Adaptive: Once inside there are two main systems involved in eradicating the threat. The “innate” and the
“adaptive”. Newborn babies are immediately protected by the innate immune cells. Innate immune cells recognize “general” danger. The other system is the “adaptive” system. It’s the one that recognizes specific pathogens.

Going Deeper: There are sublayers of these two systems. Bone marrow, the spleen, the lymphatic system among others less well-known to the general public due to social distancing I’m sure. All are critical to our survival. If any of these additional layers malfunction, or cease to function, the results can be catastrophic.

Just Like Cyber Defense: By now you are wondering, this is all fine and good, but what does it have to do with computers? Let me explain. Our physiology uses two proven methodologies to protect us. Both of which are also applicable to computer, network, and information security. One is “Defense in Depth”, the other is “Zero Trust”. It’s kind of like this. Imagine if the only defense your body had against disease was your skin. How long do you think you’d survive?

Holes in Your Defense: Your skin is like the firewall of the body. You need it for sure. And it DOES keep out a lot of pathogens. But remember the two BIG weaknesses in that defensive layer of skin? You need to eat and breathe so you can’t close those ports. They have to remain open. And generally, that’s how pathogens get in and you get sick. In like manner, the firewall you use on your network has two gaping holes. One for internet, and one for email. And generally, that’s how malware gets in and you get ransomware.

Antibodies: Once inside your body, a virus is detected as foreign and immediately attacked. Then the antibodies build a memory so if that specific virus ever comes back, the time to eradication is significantly reduced. Your Immune system can also fight pathogens your body has never seen before. Anything that isn’t known by your body to be good is immediately attacked.

The Problem with Cyber Defense: Imagine if your body only eliminated those pathogens it KNEW was BAD. The human race would never survive. Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY the approach we’ve taken with computer and information security. The expensive firewall you have at the edge of your network is like your skin. Complete with two gaping holes for internet and email access. Holes through which the pathogens enter your network. You have antivirus too. But it only stops what it KNOWS is bad. What about all the bad it doesn’t know about? There’s the problem. Because there are over 100,000 new malware variants EVERY DAY. 100,000 new malware variants your antivirus knows NOTHING about, cannot detect, and will not stop.

AppLocker: Just like the human race would never survive with that approach to pathogens, networks succumb to ransomware and other malware every day. For that very reason. They only stop what they know is bad. Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s sitting in your operating system already. It will stop about 95% of all the new malware. Even if it’s never seen it before. It’s the adaptive immune system of your computer. On Windows it’s called AppLocker. But you have to enable it. It’s turned off by default.

Contact the CyberGuys from CyberEye about how to do that at no cost to you.

Catching Wild Pigs

How to Catch a Wild Pig: You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the woods and putting corn on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come every day to eat the free corn. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down on one side of the place where they gather. When they are comfortable with the fence, they begin to eat the corn again, and you put up another side of the fence. They become oblivious to that, and they start to eat again.

Continue until you have all four sides of the fence put up with a gate in the last side. The pigs, habitually coming to eat the free corn, enter through the gate to eat; you slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught.

It Happens to Us: Is this a ranching piece or the Cyber Tripwire?  There is a parallel to the wild pig parable and what is known as “cybersecurity fatigue.”   According to the National Institute of Standards & Technology, security fatigue is “a weariness or reluctance to deal with computer security.”  When asked to make more computer security decisions than they are able to manage, people tend to experience decision fatigue, which leads to security fatigue. Every day, people on their computers are being asked to make a multitude of cybersecurity decisions:  “What’s the password for this site?”  “ Should I open this email?”   “Is it OK to click this link?”   

Collaboration Tools: Due to the pandemic, more people are working remotely, leading to the skyrocketing usage of collaboration tools, like Discord, Teams, and Slack.   The users who are collaborating, sharing links, and sending files, lack the concern of whether the link is legitimate or if the file has embedded malware.  (Was that a fence that just went up? Nothing to see here—it’s normal.)    We’ve been lulled into thinking that we can disregard security concerns for these collaboration tools.

Hackers Take Over: Recently Talos, Cisco’s cyber intelligence division, wrote an article about how hackers are using collaboration tools to evade organizational defenses.  The hackers improperly use the legitimate collaboration tool, which is not blocked, to distribute their malware. This happens because many of the security perimeter controls existing on email or web browsers are not in effect with these collaboration tools; thus, hackers prey upon employees’ cybersecurity fatigue. This fatigue works in the hackers’ favor because users are accustomed to passing information such as links and files through these chat tools thinking they are secure.  (What’s that fence doing there? It’s all normal—nothing to see here.)

Your Counter Measures: Organizations should take measures to combat this, like whitelisting applications and employing endpoint detection.  “Least privilege” should be employed, meaning regular users are not running as administrators.  Remember:  If you click on a malicious link as administrator, now that malware becomes the administrator of your system.  Micro-training, another option for better cybersecurity for your employees, consists of weekly three-minute videos sent via email to keep the protection of your business in the top of their minds.

Pay Attention: Be careful while using your organization’s collaboration tools.  Treat files and links in those tools just like you would in emails.  Stay alert.  That way, when you are happily eating your free corn in the field, and the next day there is a peculiar-looking fence, you’ll know it’s time to run!