Thursday, August 29, 2013

Speaking up and out

Knowledge is really only valuable if you can share it.  I do that at the University of Washington when I teach courses in risk or in technology as it applies to ethics, policy and law.  I do that when I speak at large conferences such as EPCOR (photo above from 2012).  Now I'm going to try to move out past professional and/or corporate audiences into the schools.

The second edition of Advice From A Risk Detective has a new chapter on risks that kids face when they go to school.   When that chapter is combined with the one on technology, it makes for a powerful message for kids growing up with electronic devices that represent previously unimaginable freedom.  I call it the two faces of technology, and want to talk with kids about risks online, bullying, and managing other risks that come with social media.

So if you've got kids in Seattle area middle or high schools, feel free to suggest that I get invited to have a lively, direct and humorous time with them.  I promise you that what they learn on that session can be brought home and applied to your own online life.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Your car and your home -- what computers have wrought

There's a long column this morning in the New York Times by Nick Bilton that covers nearly everything most people do not want to know about technology and how it impacts other types of private spaces -- our cars and our homes.

Can hackers actually reprogram your car?  What about those convenient home oversight programs that allow you to turn up your heat or check in on your pet?  As the article points out, anything that runs on a computer program can be hacked.  But to what end?  Do computer hackers who work online have the an aptitude for physical robbery?

The question to answer is whether or not you view this type of risk as high.  Most of us do not secure our homes with such computer systems, many of which have mobile interfaces.  If we do use such systems, or if we drive cars that run rather completely on computers, then it is worth it to check with the manufacturer to see what types of security is already in place.

Ironically, we may find that, at least in this instance, technology imperfections will lead us back to improved physical security.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tripping the light fantastic in Washington DC

I had four spectacular days in Washington DC.  Though it moves at a different pace than New York or Seattle, it is one of my favorite American cities, laid out so many years ago by Pierre Charles L'Enfant.  Though many ugly corporate office buildings now distract the eye, there is still the unfailing symmetry of the streets and the older buildings and monuments to give visual satisfaction.   Here's a photo I took from my cab window coming into the city on Memorial Drive, of the back of the Lincoln Memorial.  (They were still working to wash away the green paint on Lincoln's left leg that a deranged visitor to the city had left.)

The conference I was in town to attend was sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, and held at minimal cost and a lot of staff time at the national headquarters of the American Red Cross.  The building dates at around 1912.

Two of our most inspirational speakers were FEMA director Craig Fuguate....

...a plain-spoken professional, who has somehow managed to elevate the concept of "whole of community" to a new level.  Best story about him:  in the midst of one of the more recent disasters (probably Sandy) when with the president for a briefing, someone mentioned the name of another corporation that wished to "partner" with FEMA. Fugate is noted as having looked exasperated and said "We don't need another partner.  We need teammates."

By far, the most compelling story told was by the keynote speaker, Jacob Wood, of Team Rubicon, a group of veterans whom he's organized to volunteer their skills during disasters.

You can find out more about Team Rubicon at, and in fact join one of their teams if you are a veteran.  Jacob's most compelling story had to do with sending in a group of technology experts with their laptops to help after Hurricane Sandy.  He said they did not know going in how they were going to help -- in fact his slide on this story had the question "Who Are These Geeks?" that was asked when they arrived on site -- but he had a feeling they would.  It turns out the team gathered large amounts of data that was immediately useful in the recovery effort.

The second day of the conference began for me with a business breakfast at Cafe du Parc at the Willard Hotel.  It put me right in the middle of the oldest part of the city, just across the street from the U.S. Treasury Building.

Willard Hotel

 It was an easy walk from the hotel over to the American Red Cross headquarters for the second day of the conference. 

I simply took the walkway behind Treasury (building is in the background and the Savannah statue to the right) to cross, and in doing so walked behind the White House and the Old Executive Office Building (another favorite) as well.  I had a special treat at a fairly quiet time of the day.

Here's the White House vegetable garden (above) well as....

...the White House Beehives.  Ironically, so thrilled to get these two photos, I neglected to photograph the White House itself!

Here's a view of the back of the Old Executive Office Building, every bit as grand as the Willard Hotel.

Walking that way brought me out at the intersection where the Corcoran Gallery is located, another of Washington DC's art treasures.  The Corcoran is on the block just north of the American Red Cross building.

So on the second day of the conference, we heard a number of speakers and panels focused on campus resiliency.  We also heard a number of government officials speak of concentrated efforts around the executive order on cyber-security.  I was lucky enough to have four great panelists to close out the conference, looking ahead to next steps for public-private partnerships.   My thanks go to Bill Raisch, founder of InterCEP as well as the Global Risk Forum at New York University, and special adviser to the 9/11 commission on the private sector; Brian Tishuk, who spent nearly 20 years at Treasury, where he created the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection, now the executive director of ChicagoFIRST since 2003; Alan D. Cohn, the DHS Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Planning and Risk, also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University; and Jim Thompson, former acting director for the Secretary of State's Global Partnership Initiative, and who now heads partnerships and innovation for the National Security Staff at the White House.  All four men are dedicated public servants with clear ideas for how to move ahead.

My trip was not without personal pleasures.  I was able to catch up with  a number of old friends and colleagues over meals.  I came back more committed to the issues at hand.   I'll be talking more about some of those issues in this month's issue of ASA News & Notes which will appear on August 12.