Monday, 29 June 2009

Castle walls

Just over a week ago, Microsoft held their Technet Virtual Conference – I found it a really useful event and there were a lot of interesting features. If you missed it then you might want to know that the material is still available from their main website.

During the day, items were split between technical and management; the first item in the management section was a recorded talk by Miha Kralj, one of their senior architects. He had a lot to say on the topic of where IT is likely to go over the next decade and it was delivered in a straight forward, humorous fashion. I found that I agreed with much of what he said – but there were a couple of items where I think he was a little bit out.

He talked about people in the workplace – how they fall into certain categories, Baby Boomers born the 20 years after WWII (which includes me!), Generation X, Generation Y and the latest additions to the work place, the Digital Natives. He stated that this latest generation are much more attuned to using computing devices and companies need to take this into account when planning for the future.

He argued that the Digital Natives are used to making use of newer technologies such as Instant Messaging, social networking sites such as Facebook, video sites such as YouTube or photo sharing sites like Flickr, and will expect to be able make use of these as part of their normal work routine. They are therefore unlikely to be happy conforming to corporate rules preventing the use of these products, and so companies need to “tear down the walls” to their networks.

When I heard this, my immediate reaction was one of horror – like many others, I have had to deal with issues such as virus or spyware infection caused by a user opening an email or downloading a file that is actually a piece of malware. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is very relevant for those of us at the front end.

I understand the value of making use of these products, and in fact we are looking at introducing some newer methods of communication to improve the way that people work. But I also am very concerned about the topic of security. The reality is that the majority of users are still very naïve about safety measures – those of us entrusted with system administration cannot afford to rely on the users to keep themselves safe, and we have to make sure that they are not put in a position where they can compromise the security of the network.

Unfortunately, the new Digital Natives may well know how to do things, but are not yet savvy enough to know if they should; or more importantly, why they should not do something (and for that matter, most other users are just as bad). We may be able to allow some windows into our secure networks, but to remove the protection completely would be a very foolish thing indeed.

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