If you tell enough stories, perhaps the moral will show up.


The Userid Con

Activity logs are good. We grant all sorts of access to staff "merely" because they can't do their jobs without it, and trust them not to abuse it. The way Ronald Reagan put this was "trust, but verify," and he was right. Audit logs are our verification. My first security effort here was to replace a shared admin userid with personal IDs, simply to make the logs mean something, and it's probably the most useful single thing I've done.

So, we configure the systems to generate logs, and we squirrel them away safely and the auditors and investigators are profoundly happy. But if we ever want to use them as evidence there's a little con trick we have to carry off first. That trick is called "User equals userID".

It's a con because it's untrue, and we depend on users not knowing it's untrue. Ask yourself, where you work, which has the worst career outcome a) "yes, I sent those emails" or b) "everyone knows I leave my password on a note under my keyboard"? If you're like my employers, admitting password sloppiness is going to go a lot better, especially if you've been doing the sort of thing people get investigated for. I sometimes wonder how many people have lost their jobs or reputation after assuming that logs with their name on were irrefutable evidence, when they could have hung on by saying that someone else was on their account. It must be a lot. I've seen this benign con work in environments where no-one even pretends to have a secret password.

Perhaps it's not totally grim. A single event may be deniable, but a pattern or a sequence of offending behaviours is much harder to walk away from. And a good evidence recovery can cause people to collapse when they are shown exact texts, pictures, times.

We can deal with this:

  1. Let's look again at the rules on password sharing in the AUP. And,
  2. I think it's time to dust off that plan for smartcard tokens -- they are hard to share accidentally.
But in the meantime, well now, I think we'd better keep this to ourselves. Otherwise, there'll be a password under every keyboard in your firm.

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