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Amnesia and Normalcy

Amnesia and Normalcy

Riverbank Ruminations; Observations from The Banks of The Technology River

Tom Evans ~  Ashton Engineer Emeritus


I mentioned this article on Wikipedia in an earlier blog. The idea of landscape amnesia mentioned that there is an interesting one to apply to the world of technology. Landscape amnesia refers to changes that occur slowly enough and over a sufficient period that humans do not notice them. Deteriorating groundwater quality is one such item. When it comes to technology, the time scale for change is much shorter than for changes in the natural world.

Do You Remember Rotary Phones?

For example, take telephones. Bell was granted the patent in 1876. In 146 years we have gone from prototype to smartphones with the processing power of a decent computer and the ability to not only call others but connect via the internet to a global community. Do you remember using a rotary phone? How about a touch-tone phone? Did you ever have a party-line home phone? (For those who never had one, a party line was a landline connection that was shared with other houses on the street. It worked the same way as having multiple phones in one house. If someone was on the line, you could not make a call. You could also listen to someone else’s call if you were rude.) The memory of those versions of telephony is mostly relegated to codgers like myself. (Not that I think those were the good old days.)

As part of that change, what happened to payphones? Slowly but surely, the mobile phone eliminated the need for payphones, at least for people that can afford them. (There is still a significant portion of the population in the US that do not have a smartphone.) The tech landscape changes quickly and for most of us, amnesia kicks in and we forget how things used to be. We become used to how things are and forget things that have been lost. A visual example of how easily we can do this is demonstrated in this video from the 2021 Best Illusion of the Year contest. It is 1 minute that may surprise you with how easy it is to miss changes around you.

Security Has Changed, Too

So how does this relate to security? Let’s take a brief look at how things have changed. If you remember mainframes or worked on them, congratulations on living this long! Most people in the workforce these days will picture a laptop or some sort of desktop when computers are mentioned. Think of the laptop you use. Here is some ancestry :

  • The IBM 5100 is the first portable computer, which was released in September 1975. The computer weighed 55-pounds and had a five-inch CRT display, tape drive, 1.9 MHz PALM processor, and 64 KB of RAM. In the picture is an ad of the IBM 5100 taken from a November 1975 issue of Scientific American.
  • The first truly portable computer or laptop is considered to be the Osborne I, which was released in April 1981 and developed by Adam Osborne. The Osborne I weighed 24.5-pounds, had a 5-inch display, 64 KB of memory, two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, ran the CP/M 2.2 operating system, included a modem, and cost $1,795.

As you may have noticed, the definition of portable has changed significantly. While technological improvements have resulted in changes to our equipment, the new technology has resulted in redefining how we work. Remote work became feasible as high-speed connectivity became more available. People were able to travel on business and keep up with events in the office. Remote offices became more common. Then came COVID. Remote work became a necessity. As I write this blog, we are entering the third year of the pandemic. The ‘Great Resignation’ is apparently a thing causing jobs to go begging. Working remotely is no longer a perk, it is a requirement by the employee or they are not interested in the job.

A Secure Office Network Is No Longer Enough

All of this may have caused businesses to have amnesia about security. The old paradigm of protecting the network inside the building no longer works because the network is not in the office anymore, it is wherever your employees are. Decisions made years ago are no longer valid. A firewall isn’t the protection it used to be. It has to let your employees in, but they are on their home network as well and you don’t control that. They may have a work-issued computer but what about their phone? Even if both are work-issued, do you control those devices to exclude non-work activity? If their devices are not work-issued, do you allow them on your network?

This means a significant rethinking of security for most businesses. The bad guys know these changes have made businesses more vulnerable and they are doing their best to exploit them. Are you keeping up with how the landscape is changing? We can miss changes that occur over a long time. We can also miss things that happen very fast. We wind up asking “How did that happen?”, “When did that happen?”  Unfortunately, many businesses today wind up asking “What happened?” when the network is compromised.  Since business happens on the internet these days, every company has a much larger attack surface for the bad guys to work on. The old days of ‘guarding the castle’ have long passed by. There is no castle and the bad guys have numerous weapons at their disposal. There is a thriving service industry on the dark web that will serve up any attack a person is willing to pay for. Are you willing to pay for defense? Do you know what to buy or how to defend your business? Now more than ever small businesses need a trusted partner with the experience to secure their assets.  Don’t let the ‘new normal’ cause security amnesia.  Call Ashton Solutions at 216 397-4080 to make sure your network is secure.

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