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What Business Risk?

ComputerWorld reports that a survey commissioned by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) found that 15% of respondents admitted logging onto peer-to-peer file sharing networks from work computers despite security warnings to the contrary. A further 74% of the survey respondents said they don't believe that downloading unauthorized content or software to work PCs creates a business risk.

I wonder what these 74% do consider a business risk.

No One Did Anything Wrong

As reported in the Palm Beach Post, the Palm Beach County courts are trying to determine whether they should scrap their computer system that had a $13.6 million upgrade last year. The upgrade got them off their old mainframe onto a newer platform, and it was slated to give the court some functional upgrades as well.

Unfortunately, things haven't turned out too well. For example, when the court's computer system electronically alerts the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles of license suspensions, court staff have to telephone the DMV to ensure the information was not only received but received correctly. Another example was that before sending out 40,000 letters ordering people who owed the court money for unpaid fines, court staff had to manually check to ensure that they were mailing letters to the people who actually owed the court money and that the amounts stated in the letters were correct.

As a result of the problems, the courts have had to hire an additional 29 staff at a cost of $1.4 million per annum to try to keep the court system operating to some level of normality.

The upgrade, which was originally estimated to take six months to a year to convert all the data stored in the mainframe into the new system actually took 3 1/2 years. When the initial schedule estimate was made, court officials figured they would encounter three or four different methods of inputting data into the system. However, over a 150 different were actually being used.

No one seemed to checked this "minor" assumption before the contract was let. It gets better.

During the upgrade, one vendor went bankrupt, another gave up and left and a third was fired and ultimately reimbursed the county $5.6 million. The fourth "completed" the upgrade, if you can call a computer system with "tens of thousands of errors" in it complete.

To make the situation even more interesting, who controlled and paid for the system upgrade was a subject of a political wrestling match for its entire development.

In reflecting on the fiasco, Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Sharon Bock is quoted as saying, presumably with a straight face that, "It's not something that anyone did wrong."


Sounds to me like its time for the IT Mercy Rule to take effect.

How do you spend £12.4bn over 10 years? Start by spending £2.4bn in 10 minutes

The BBC reported last week that the decision to move forward in 2002 with the UK National Health Service's electronic health record's National Programme for IT (NPfIT) took place after a ten-minute presentation to then Prime Minister Tony Blair. The cost estimate for NPfIT - done basically on the back of an envelop - was for £2.4bn over three years, to which Blair basically said, "Go for it."

Surprise, surprise, NPfIT is currently projected to cost £12.4bn over ten years, and even that estimate is likely severely optimistic. Tony Collins over at ComputerWeekly who has been following the NPfIT situation for years has all the gory details. Collins has been trying to get the minutes of the meeting released, which the government refuses to do, despite being directed to do so by the Information Commissioner.

The NHS has recently stated that regardless of the many problems the NPfIT has faced, it is highly successful, and that it is "so well advanced that the health service 'could no longer function' without it."

This is kind of like Homer Simpson saying,â''I think Smithers picked me because of my motivational skills. Everyone says they have to work a lot harder when Iâ''m around.â''

E-Mail Madness Redux

A friend of mine in the UK pointed out a similar instance to the DHS E-Mail Madness that hit in early October. The British Computer Society (BCS), last week sent over 700 members an email without using the blind carbon copy field, like what happened in the DHS incident. Ironically, the email was a request for people to fill in an online survey on BCS customer service satisfaction

As per the DHS email situation, recipients responded with "unsubscribe me" messages using the reply all, which of course got more people annoyed, etc. At least there were no reports that people used the email to solicit jobs or votes for Parliament. Must be that famous British reserve.

What Does Microsoft Do With All That Error Data?

On a "good" day, some 50 gigabytes of error data flows into Microsoft, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Two dozen programmers pore over the data, looking for OS kernel and or application problems resulting from design flaws, programming, errors, resource conflicts, and other sorts of programmer and designer ingenuity.

Microsoft won't say where the majority of errors lie or who is at fault, nor give any details about how Vista, XP, Windows 98, Windows 95 all compare, which is too bad. Nor does Microsoft say how errors are prioritized for repair, and whether those two dozen programmers get any say. It also doesn't say how many 50 gigabyte days occur, either.

As I read the story, I got to wondering about those two dozen programmers who look over all the error data coming in. Do they get excited when a big day of error data hits? Do they take bets when the first 60 gigabyte day occurs, or the least busy day of the year is? Do they have a list of known but obscure errors, and then try to guess (err.. predict) when the first time it will show up? Is there a bell that gets rung when it does?

Also, is that position a stop on the way towards bigger and better things, or is it a career path all its own? Is there a title of Chief Error Guru? Do you move from a development team to this error discovery team, or vice versa? After being there awhile, you must get a pretty good education as to what not to do in developing applications or OS kernels. Are those lessons learned promulgated throughout the company and to others in the software community?

Anyone out there who knows, let me know. I'm curious about the dirty two-dozen.

New England Patriots Win Big - On Two Fronts

Having grown up in New England but now living in Virginia, it has been a mixed week for me in the world of sports. Boston College beat Virginia Tech last Thursday night in Blacksburg, Virginia, coming from 10 points behind in the last four minutes to win and keep their number 2 ranking in college football. Then yesterday afternoon, the New England Patriots crushed the Washington Redskins for their eighth win in a row to keep their perfect season hopes alive. (Oh yes, the Bosox won the World Series again last night - but at least they weren't playing the Washington Nationals.)

Anyway, it must be great to be a sports fan right now in New England, except maybe for some Patriot season ticket holders. You see, last year the Patriots sued StubHub! (which is owned by eBay and enables fans to buy and sell tickets to sporting, concert, theater and other live entertainment events, even those that are otherwise sold out) for its list of people who were using the site to resell their Patriot tickets. The Patriots allow season ticket holders to resell their tickets at face value on the team's website, but prohibit all other resales.

StubHub! fought hard against the lawsuit, claiming it violated customer privacy, was anti-competitive, etc., etc., but the company was recently ordered by a Massachusetts Superior Court judge to turn over to the Patriots the contact information of every person who used StubHub.com to sell, attempt to sell, buy, or attempt to buy a ticket to a Patriots home game from November 2002 to January 2007. It is estimated that 13,000 names have since been turned over.

The Patriots, have remained mum on what exactly they are going to do with the information now that they have it. However, the Massachusetts court judge said that the Patriots intended to use the identities of the purchasers and sellers not only for this case, but also for its own other allegedly legitimate uses, such as canceling season tickets of 'violators' or reporting to authorities those customers that they deem to be in violation of the Massachusetts anti-scalping law.

At this time, the Patriots will most likely make it deep into the NFL play-offs, and, if they continue to play as they have so far this season, they have a decent chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

I wonder if the Patriots are going to drop kick some of their season ticket holders before or after the playoffs.

Too Busy to Help the Poor and Sick In Connecticut

WellCare Health Plans Inc. of Connecticut appears to be too busy to fix a software bug that is harming low-income adult and children Medicaid patients, the Hartford Courant is reporting today. During the summer, WellCare and two other insurance companies, Anthem and HealthNet, were discovered "accidentally" sending pharmacists computer messages saying that a prescription was not covered when in fact what should have been sent was that the prescription required prior authorization from the insurer. By law, managed care organizations are required to cover all drugs that are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Anthem and HealthNet have already fixed the problem, but Wellcare says it can't do so until December 1st. Must be part of a larger WellCare software maintenance build, I guess. It may also be because the FBI, Department of Health and Human Services, and Florida Medicaid Fraud Control Unit raided the company's Tampa, Fla., headquarters last Wednesday.

Wellcare says "to the best of its knowledge" it knows of no one who has been denied coverage, but Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office has credible and plausible reports that prescriptions have been denied.

The TJX Data Breach - The Gift Just Keeps on Giving

The Boston Globe reported this morning that the data breach at TJX affected 94 million customers, more than twice the number TJX had admitted to previously. According to the article:

"The data breach affected about 65 million Visa account numbers and about 29 million MasterCard numbers ...A Visa official also put fraud losses to banks and other institutions that issued the cards at between $68 million and $83 million on Visa accounts alone."

TJX claims its costs of the breach will remain about $256 million - although, given past history, I wouldn't place any bets.

I wonder how long ago TJX knew these "new" numbers, but "forgot" to let its investors (or customers) know.

BTW, the original hacker(s) have still not been caught.

If a Data Breach Occurs, But No One Reports It, Then ...

Government Executive magazine reported today that, "Federal agencies report an average of 30 incidents a day in which Americans' personally identifiable information is exposed, double the incidents reported early this summer."

The increase in the number was attributed by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "to agencies conducting more thorough reporting on security breaches."

OMB also said not to worry, that only a small number actually "pose a significant risk to Americans' personal information."

That makes me feel much better. Only half of a small proportion of Federal government related significant data breaches have gone unreported.

Hear ye, Hear ye: Government Solves IT Project Problems

The US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced yesterday that "As of September 30, 2007, there were 134 business cases remaining on the Management Watch List, compared to 346 in February 2007 when the President released his FY2008 budget request, a decline of 61 percent over almost seven months."

This is truly amazing. Sixty-one percent of government IT projects on the OMB watch list, which indicates whether they are well-positioned to execute, all got better at the same time. One can only conclude that the government has found a new, secret breakthrough to manage IT project risk.

And just in time too, as a bunch of noisy Congressman have been calling for better management of government IT projects, and hinting that some should even be terminated.

Will OMB reveal the newly discovered secret sauce to IT project success, or is its disclosure putting national security at risk? Just think what it would mean to the US economy if suddenly 61% of all IT projects significantly improved their probability of success. It could even mean the end of IT outsourcing!


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Willie D. Jones
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