Saturday, January 14, 2012

Peter Shankman on Situational Awareness - A Cautionary Tale

How One Bit of Stupidity Could Have Brought Down a Multi-Million Dollar Media Company - An (abridged) true story, by Peter Shankman, who has a better grasp of business espionage than most executives.

Everyone is always concerned about digital espionage. “My account was hacked!” “I clicked on a bad link!” “Fifty million credit card numbers were stolen!” The fact is, however, that digital espionage is the least worrisome thing for the majority of companies. The chances of your company getting “hacked” and information being stolen is minimal, compared to getting in trouble due to the stupidity of your employees.

I was flying home this past weekend from Florida. I got into my seat and got settled. My seatmate sat down, an older gentleman in a suit and tie...

I happened to look over to my left, and this man was reading a huge binder. Had to be at least 100 pages, if not more. He was on the first few pages. I looked over, and in giant letters, it said “KEY INVESTMENT HIGHLIGHTS.” That caught my interest, as it would anyone. Within five words, I realized that he was reading an overview of a very large media company – In another thirty seconds, I’d put it together – This guy worked for a company that was hired to help this very large media company sell themselves. In other words, a company that produces both online and offline properties, that you probably read every week, was up for sale.

My seatmate couldn’t have been more clueless. He had his headphones on, enjoying his silence, while flipping pages in this binder, taking notes, not looking up, not aware of his surroundings in the slightest...

He spent an hour of the flight on several pages that were titled “Liabilities” – It was all proprietary information about problems the company was having, and how they planned to fix them. Unreal...

...the man sitting next to me was reading proprietary information, information that could be very, very damaging to this company if in the wrong hands, and he couldn’t have cared less about it. When I landed, I confirmed it. This was extremely private information.

I’ve often said that privacy doesn’t exist, that we all need to be smarter, that instead of working on new ways to gain more fans, perhaps we should take a day and work on situational awareness!

I decided to see how out of it he really was, and also prove a point. Check this out.

Heavily Redacted by Me

This is one of a handful of photos I took with both my iPad and my Droid. Just to see if I could, which obviously, I could.

The man next to me caught a break that day. I’m not a dick. I’m not going to name the company, nor the company he works for (which was on the bottom of every page of the report.) But I have a feeling I’m in the minority here.

Guys, we have to be smarter than this. We simply have to. We can’t afford not to. Here are four tips on how to be:

1) Assume you’re always being watched. Assume everything you do can be watched, and probably is. You have to assume this for everything, from your work life to your personal life. It means you’ll be seen doing anything stupid that could get you in trouble, from doing drugs with people you assume are friends, to meeting someone for insider information in a parking lot. It’s too easy to get caught nowadays.

2) Assume most people are much less nice than me. I knew immediately what I was looking at, and also that I’d never go public with the information... I’m not saying don’t be nice to people you meet – But don’t start sharing information with people until you truly trust them. In other words, enter every interaction with a healthy dose of cynicism. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a smart thing.

3) It’s always little things that will nail you. You have any idea how many times I’ve been in an airport or hotel lounge, when I’ve heard someone spouting off their credit card to the person they’re talking to? Or explaining, step by step, their entire itinerary, while their home address sits on their luggage?... We need to pull our heads out of our collective smart-phone asses and start realizing what the hell is going on around us!

4) As always, alcohol comes into play. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life has come at events where I’ve stayed sober... I still say the best way to get drunk is with a trusted friend, in your own home. Anything else just asks for trouble.

I’d suggest that we make 2012 the year we become smarter – But I’ve been suggesting that for years. And it never seems to happen.

We need to be smarter. (unabridged version)