Summary: Analyze, Don’t Guess

By Rich

Rich here,

Another week, another massive data breach.

This morning I woke up to a couple interview requests over this. I am always wary of speaking on incidents based on nothing more than press reports, so I try to make clear that all I can do is provide some analysis. Maybe I shouldn’t even do that, but I find I can often defuse hyperbole and inject context, even without speaking to the details of the incident.

That’s a fine line any of us on press lists walk. To be honest, more often than not I see people fall into the fail bucket by making assumptions or projecting their own bias.

Take this Anthem situation. I kept my comments along the lines of potential long-term issues for people now suffering exposed personal information (for example a year of credit monitoring is worthless when someone loses your Social Security Number). I was able to talk about who suffers the consequences of these breaches, trends in long-term impacts on breached companies, and the weaknesses in our financial and identity systems that make this data valuable.

I did all of that without blaming Anthem, guessing as to attribution, or discussing potential means and motivations. Those are paths you can consider if you have inside information (verified, of course), but even then you need to be cautious.

It was disappointing to read some of the articles on this breach. One in particular stood out because it was from a major tech publication, and the reporter seemed more interested in blaming Anthem and looking smarter than anything else. This is the same person who seriously blew it on another story recently due to the same hubris (but no apologies, of course).

There is a difference between analyzing and guessing, and it is often hubris.

Analysis means admitting what you don’t know, and challenging and doubting your own assumptions. Constantly.

I have a huge fracking ego, and I hate being wrong, but I care more about the truth and facts than being right or wrong. To me, it’s like science. Present the facts and the path to your conclusions, making any assumptions clear. Don’t present assumptions as facts, and always assume you don’t know everything and what you do know changes sometime. Most of the time.

And for crap’s sake, enough with blaming the victim and thinking you know how the breach occurred when you don’t have a single verified source (if you have one, put it in the article). Go read Dennis Fisher’s piece for how to play it straight and still make a point.

Unless you are Ranum. We all need to bow down to Ranum, who totally gets it.

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