Peter Cochrane's Blog: Security trap shows people are weakest link

Gleaning confidential info from some unsuspecting train-riders

For the most part there seemed to be no sign of wi-fi or Bluetooth, but curiously there seemed to be some glitch where each laptop gave a burst of wi-fi as the laptop lid was either closed or opened.

I got some data identifying each machine, but I'm not sure how useful it might be, and I didn't have a full suite of software with me to do anything more powerful.

So it looks like IT did a good job in securing these devices, but unfortunately they then gave them to insecure people!

The man made several phone calls, they continued to discuss the meeting, including writing several emails, and I got even more insight into their work.

Once I came within 20 minutes of my destination, I became moved to disclose my activity. I said: "Excuse me folks but I have something I have to ask you, have you had any security training?"

They responded with silence and a quizzical look, so I revealed what I knew about them. They then looked a little ashen!

I saw no reason to introduce myself or give them any information about me, but I did say I am not from 'the dark side', and then explained what I would do if I was. Their shade went a little greyer!

After a brief discussion about not making themselves obvious targets, I tore up my paper notes in front of them and left them on the table. I also assured them that I had committed nothing to memory, and was not using the voice recorder on my laptop. I then left the train and headed for the coffee shop.

Should I have done this? I don't know! But I hate to see people putting their data and their careers at risk unnecessarily.

Does this type of incident happen often? Well, I have to say more than I would like. Last week in a coffee shop I sat behind a man booting up a laptop with a most interesting login screen: the American eagle embedded in the badge of the CIA. Now to someone with a different mindset than mine, that could have been a laptop worth stealing!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

Editor's Picks