Archive for the ‘Government IT’ Category

If you have been anywhere near a TV, Radio, or Internet news site you have probably heard the word ConFlicker. I’m not here to talk about this internet terror itself, but I am here to talk about the actions that people are taking. As the title of this post says, the state is scrambling to fix an issue that cannot be fixed. What I mean bythat statement is that although ConFlicker can be stopped technically, it was built to thrive on societal ineptitude of internet culture by means of social engineering. 

The infections scheme is based on Social Engineering concepts. A time honored tradition of thieves, rouges, and conartists. Social engineering has the power to make people accept totally believable, yet factious, stories which gain information and confidence of victims to further the personal greed of criminals. I would like to say that this rare, but with AIG, Madoff, Enron, and Katrina scandals in the news I believe it is more common place now than ever before. Here in America, our society is built on the fact that you’re innocent until proven guilty. I believe that is the correct way to view the world, but this leads us to trust the good in people and hinders our skepticism. This innate idea to trust sometimes blinds us to the reality that there are harmful people, whose only intentions are to steal our identities and money.
Enter Conflicker, a computer worm that infects your unpatched computer through visiting bogus websites setup by hackers. Most people who visit these malicious websites are steered there through cleverly disguised social engineering techniques such as spam emails, hacked accounts social network accounts, and variety of other unassuming methods. 60 Minutes recently did an episode that showed how a hacked Facebook account was used to direct friends of that account to infect websites. As soon as I saw that computer generated Facebook message from the hacked account it sent warning signals off to me, but probably 90% of people would have clicked the link. This type deception is the true danger of Conflicker and other virus like it. The major way the virus is effective is if your unpatched computer is tricked in to visiting an infected site.  
You might be wondering what all this has to do with government. As much as the government tries to patch all their machines and cut internet usage to their workers this will not be enough. Conflicker, while nasty, is not the issue, it’s the methods that spread Conflicker that need to me addressed. Until we start teaching internet users to be savvier or law enforcement can eliminate the threats at the source, Conflicker is just the means of this attack and not the solution for stopping the problem.

So what are we to do about this threat???  It is a two pronged solution, education and punishment. I will not go into punishment here, but I’ll only say that most of these cyber attacks come from Russia and China which we have few options for recourse even if we know who is the criminal. Education, Conflicker is not a technical issue; it is a computer/internet education issue. Patched computers with updated antivirus software are at little to no risk. The systems that are at risk are the ones that do not patch the OS or the Anti Virus protection is outdated. This is why we need to better instruct people why they need to keep their Antivirus up to date. We need to show computers users how to keep their operating systems patched. We need to educate people on what to be suspicious of when they receive emails, IM’s, text messages, tweets, etc…. The power these hacker are given is because overall society of internet users are oblivious to simple, but crucial steps to deter criminals. This is not saying that by teaching the mass how to be safer on the internet will end all problems. There have been and will always be people that prey on the uneducated, the less fortunate, and trusting. 
For> more information on Conflicker or a means of scanning your computer to see if you are infected 
For more information on Conflicker or a means of scanning your computer to see if you are infected read Adrian Kingsley-Hughes – “The ‘no bull’ guide to Conficker

There are so many ways for government to waste money, but learning a little from social media websites, like Facebook, governmental offices could learn to solve problems through crowd sourcing existing staff from around the nation. The government has a wide range of technologies that it uses from Mainframes to SQL servers to Helpdesk software. Even though government agencies are very diverse, most have core sections (Finance and Accounting, Human Resources, Legal Department, Information Technology, and Specialized Staff found within the different divisions of government) that have similar technology support needs.

Technology Support Needs:

  1. Server Teams:

    1. Email

    2. File Storage

    3. Active Directory

  2. Database Engineers:

    1. SQL

    2. Oracle

    3. DB2

  3. Programmers:

    1. Java

    2. VB

    3. HTML

    4. SQL

  4. Network:

  5. Client Helpdesk Support:

    1. PC support

    2. Phone Helpdesk

With tightening budgets and layoffs, CIO’s are fighting a delicate balance of low staffing and still keeping a high level of customer service to the end users of the technologies they support. One way that could help with this dilemma is to have a social media website for government technology staff to bounce ideas off each other. If you look at websites like Facebook and Twitter, you will see that in today’s world, most questions can be answered by asking your friends online. With government there are issues that arise when looking for answers online. The first is that government has many policies when it comes to privacy. You cannot just ask, “What is the best way to encrypt Health information” to the general public.

Another issue is environment. The public sector has a lot more flexibility when it comes to install applications within a production environment. Purchasing requirements is another issue with government. There are times, which even thought the software you have been recommended will do the exact job you need, you cannot purchase it because of money or the company is not on the government approved vendor list.

Even with all the restriction put on the public sector there is still the opportunity to use the functionality of social media sites to enhance technology support within the government. I purpose that the government build a password protected, Facebook like, site where government employees can discuss issues with others government employees. A good example of where this could really work is within the core technology support areas.

A Government Technology site could not only help solve problems with common issues quicker, it could also save tons of money in time and resources. Let take for example email. This is the life blood of most communications within the public sector. By having 60 or 70 dedicated government email specialist from around the nation all in one group you could solve common issues much faster than calling a vendor for support (although I am not saying get rid of the vendor). Not only could you solve issues faster, but you can also help prevent them by discussing best practices with people that understand the constraints of government.

This only one way to integrate Web 2.0 in to government, there are many other applications that can be used to help organize and solve issues.

Until about three weeks ago, I had never heard the word millennial used in the context of referring to a specific group people. I first heard the word when I was in an hour long IT session, Web 2.0 Technologies. The presenter used the term millennials to describe college students who will be entering the workforce looking for the same functionality they use on the web to help solve business problems. Like most cliché technology words (solutions, beta, streamline, The Cloud, ect.) I’ve heard over the last three years, I did not pay this one any attention. Now, everywhere I turn, this word is working its way in to the business vernacular. It seems now that word is really starting pick up some steam. It will not be long, if it has not happened already, before we see Rick Sanchez twittering and talking on CNN about millennials.

If you are not sure what a millennial is then, join the club. Millennial is another name for Generation-Y. Depending on where you look you will find different number, but basicly millennials are anyone born between 1977 to 1998. These are today’s teens to early thirty something’s that have grown up in the internet age. Some key attributes of this group are the early adoption, multitasking, no brand loyalty, and the need for on demand services. Most millennials care more about functionality, simplicity, user collaboration while appearance is secondary.

A recent article I read in Computer World magazine, Vol. 32, Number 38 (September 22nd 2008), pushed me to write this post. The publication dedicated two pages about how “Millennials Demand Changes in IT Strategy.” This article talks about a new generation of internet savvy users who are more likely to work for companies that take advantage of progressive web 2.0 technologies. It the same regard, companies that have strict policies are likely to lose talented young workers.

Herein lies the problem, if you are an upstart business with minimal data restrictions building a mobile and dynamic environment, attracting young talented workers is easy. There are many pitfalls for government funded state organization . The major issue for this type of change is security. Government organization cannot sacrifice security for usability. There are so many restriction that have been legislated on government agency to protect information it is virtually impossible to get anything done due to the fear of being sued or in violation of outdated government mandates.

Very soon this governmental inability to progress forward is going to lead to a bigger issue than security. It was hinted in the Computer World article that the lack of hiring young talented replacements will come to a head as soon baby boomers start retiring. This mass exodus of institutional knowledge coupled with the fact that most of the talented college graduates are not looking to work for the government is going to crush the public sector within the next ten to fifteen years. As the pace of information moves steadily faster and faster, government Information Technology departments are doing all they can to stay afloat. With budget crises across the county, any type of progressive projects or recruitment within State and Federal government IT is limited. The fact is that millenials, who may be able to find solutions to upcoming technology issues, are going in to the private sector because of the antiquated policies of government. This is the basic “Catch 22” that need a solution now, not later!

What are your thoughts on the state of Government IT or millenials?