Are You Making a Fool of Yourself?

You’d think that an official digital ID project would be subject to a careful security review. Not in Australia. The government of New South Wales in Australia has rolled out a digital driver’s license that contains no less than five different security issues. Together, these make it trivially easy to alter any data on your ID, effectively creating a fake ID. That is good news to Australian identity thieves and underage would-be drinkers. The official response is “it’s illegal to make changes to your ID.”

Are there any embarrassing security oversights in the products you roll out? How would you know?

Don’t Use Illegal Defaults

You would never implement a system programmed to break the law, would you? The municipalities in Denmark did. If you get social security in Denmark, you are supposed to work at least 225 hours per year if you can. Those who can, and don’t, get less money. Those who cannot work are exempt from this deduction rule. The IT system has been programmed to automatically start reducing benefits unless a caseworker remembers to manually keep pushing the deduction date into the future. This means the municipalities save money by illegally reducing benefits for those citizens who do not have the energy to complain.

When you automate a process, your users will quickly come to accept the decision of the system. Make sure you have good defaults. At the very least, make sure they are in accordance with the law.

Find Time for Some Walking

You don’t have to run. But you do have to exercise a little every week. Your news feed and social media will be full of exercise tricks and gadgets, but the official recommendations are really simple: 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or cycling, or 75 minutes of running or similar.  

You can easily fit 150 minutes of walking into your week in 15-minute intervals. Get off the bus or train a little before your destination and walk for 15 minutes. If you do that on the way to work and on the way home, that gives you 30 minutes each work day. If you are in the office five days a week, that adds up to 150 minutes. 

If you are working from home, walk to work anyway. That means taking a 15-minute walk around the block when you start your workday, and another 15-minute walk when you end it. That has the added benefit of setting boundaries around your work time. The first walk can put you into focused “work mode”, and the second walk can allow your mind to change from work to relaxation. 

Control Your Tools

Do you know which tools your developers are using? Many of them are using low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools, whether officially sanctioned or not. The latest State of the Developer Nation report from SlashData delves into LCNC tool usage and finds that 46% of developers are using them. 12% of professional developers use them for more than half of their work, but developers with 10+ years of experience shun them.

Developers can pick up cloud-based low-code/no-code tools without anybody noticing and deploy production applications using free-tier functionality. By the time IT management figures out what is happening, you might have dozens of small and medium-sized applications running.

You cannot prevent these tools from being used. You can get your developers to decide on one tool and make that the officially sanctioned low-code/no-code platform. That means you can manage all the applications on one platform, and developers can help each other use the tool. Trying to ignore these tools does not make them go away.

(image source: SlashData State of the Developer Nation, 22nd edition)

Reprogram Your Brain

Are you using your brain right? As Daniel Kahneman showed, our brains have two thinking systems: A fast system and a slow system. The slow system is for carefully considering situations, and it uses a lot of energy. The fast system provides quick answers in routine situations and uses much less energy.

Our brains have evolved over thousands of years to automatically select which system to use. In every situation, the fast system gets the first try. In 98% of all cases, the fast system comes up with what it thinks is a good answer, and doesn’t even ask the slow system.

Fortunately, you can use the slow system to re-program the fast system. To change your behavior, think about a situation in advance and tell yourself what you want to happen. Your fast system might automatically say yes when your boss asks you to handle one more ticket today. Tell yourself that next time, you will say that you will do it tomorrow. Simply stating your goal reprograms your fast thinking system to select another response next time.

Are Security Issues Ignored in your Organization?

Delete production database, go to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

A disgruntled Chinese sysadmin wiped his company’s servers after feeling ignored. He had complained about a lack of basic IT security, but found no understanding from his boss. He then wiped out most of their infrastructure, paralyzing a $6 billion company with 120,000 real estate brokers. He did prove his point. He was rewarded with a 7-year jail sentence.

The person with the most detailed knowledge of the vulnerabilities in your IT landscape is not the CISO. It is the database administrator or the network engineer. Do you have a process to ensure that potential security issues can be raised anonymously and will come to the attention of the CIO?

Talk Nicely to Yourself

How do you talk to yourself? When our actions lead to bad outcomes, we blame ourselves. That is OK if it leads us to reflect on our behavior and do better next time.

But the language we use when we blame ourselves is sometimes much worse than we would ever use with other people. If a colleague breaks the build or drops a production table, we don’t call him stupid. But we might call ourselves stupid. Don’t do that. Talk to yourself at least as politely as you talk to others.

Are You Still Building Things That Don’t Scale Automatically?

There is no excuse for a modern system to be slow. I’m at a 5,000-people conference this week, and their official networking app is totally overloaded and almost unresponsive.

You might still have legacy systems with scalability issues, but everything you build today should be cloud-native. As a first-class citizen of the cloud, a modern app has access to automatic scaling, monitoring, robustness, and many other features.

Ask the architects building new systems in your organization about how the application will scale. If the answer is that it will scale automatically, good. If the answer is that somebody has to notice response time increasing and manually do anything, you are still building to the old paradigm.

Do You Understand What You are Running?

Don’t run systems you don’t understand. Some people had placed billions of dollars into a cryptocurrency called TerraUSD. They were told this was a “stablecoin” that would keep a value of $1. Underlying this claim was a clever algorithm that interacted with investors and another cryptocurrency in complex ways. Until its magic no longer worked and the supposedly stable TerraUSD dropped 80%. Trading in it is now halted.

In the global financial crisis of 2008, people had invested in complex financial instruments that they didn’t understand. Many billions were lost and large institutions went bankrupt. The banks who came out of the crisis unscathed were those who had stuck to simple banking products that everyone could understand.

Take a look at your IT landscape. Can you find somebody who understands your operating infrastructure? Or have generations of DevOps engineers just googled problems and tweaked your Kafka and Kubernetes configuration until it somehow seemed to work?

You Can Do More Than You Think

Could you land a plane? Unless you are a flight simulator enthusiast, you probably think you can’t. But if you were in the air and your pilot fell unconscious, you would be able to land the plane. A passenger with no flying experience found himself in that situation above Florida yesterday. With assistance from an air traffic controller, he successfully landed the small aircraft.

Many things we think are impossible really aren’t. Once we start, we find that we can do more than we thought. The important thing is to take action towards the goal. If you take no action today, you are not likely to take any action tomorrow. But if you take one small step today, you are likely to take another tomorrow. The difference between zero actions and one action is huge. Take that one action today.