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Re: application for an employment
From: Kurt Reimer <greimer () fccc edu>
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2006 19:48:10 -0500 (EST)


Hello All,
     The list of addressees atop these messages seems to be getting
bigger and bigger, so I'm confining my reply to just the mailing list.

     The course of this thread illustrates that the use of analogies
can't reliably prove a proposition to be right or wrong, but they can
serve to illustrate different aspects of and viewpoints towards a new
and interesting situation. Then we can call them good or bad analogies,
but I think that says more about our pre-existing opinions about the
situation than it does about anything else.

     Having said that, as I read the continuing replies to this
thread I can't help but feel that I was being way too optimistic when I
wrote before of my upset with attitudes towards Electronic Security born of fear and paranoia that were BECOMING codified into professional, ethical, and even legal standards. It seems like I'm much too late! Not only are the standards set, but we're already trying and convicting based upon them.

I take Mathias' description of his situation to be true and not intentionally misleading. And the plain fact is that he had no ill intentions toward his prospective employer or anyone else, and everything that he did was motivated by mothing other than an eager desire to impress and please the organization that he hopes will hire him.

When I read that his behavior is suspect under "the Ethics clauses in any of the IT Security Professional's organizations" or that "we all know that most, if not all, AUP's (Acceptable Use Policies?) ban this activity" then, well, I don't reject that out of hand, but when I see them make a pariah (if not an actual criminal) out of an innocent job applicant I have to wonder if they are fair and reasonable policies. Certainly they are advantageous for and serve the interests of large organizations (and the Security Professionals who are employed by them). It's not clear to me that they are as advantageous or even fair towards the individual user of the Internet or towards the rest of society in general.

The Internet is something new under the sun, and the mores of Internet Society are even newer. For that reason alone I'd feel sort of presumptuous in making up some rules and then condemning people according to them. Maybe the rules need to be in flux for awhile longer. Certainly when you consider how tiny a portion of the present Internet Community has forged these rules, and how much more of humanity will be accessing the Internet for the first time in the coming years and decades, doesn't somebody besides me see a little pomposity going on here?

And try as I might, I just can't within my mind equate running a port scan with walking onto somebody's property and trying their door and window locks. Maybe because it is so easy to do, as easy as typing a URL in your browser and looking at the output, just like turning your eyes in a particular direction. Maybe it's because everyone on the Internet has chosen to make themselves available to everyone else on a shared and commonly-paid-for public medium, and the Internet as a whole is much more like a great big village public square than it is like people's private property. Maybe it's because just about every personal datum that I generate on the Internet, every purchase I make, every website I visit, every email I send, is for available for use or sale by someone (if we include the government) to all sorts of other people with no percentage returned to me, thank you very much.

When all our AUP's and Ethical Standards take no pains to make any explicit distinction between someone who runs a port scan and some who runs a port scan and then exploits a discovered vulnerability, I'd say that those policies are kind of biased. Maybe a healthier attitude would be to regard a large organization with an insecure Internet presence rather like the way we would regard an individual walking down the street with no pants on?

And here's an observation that's got to be from some strange and bizarre alternate universe where individuals and deep-pocketed corporations with large legal teams are treated equally in the Electronic Village: Mathias did not randomly choose an organization upon which to run his nefarious portscans. The university that he scanned was SOLICITING APPLICATIONS FOR EMPLOYMENT. (Now remember, this is the bizarre alternate universe, where we do not automatically kowtow in abject gratitude, kissing the feet (and whatever other anatomy is shoved in our faces) of those who would grace us with the privlege of toiling for them. In this bizarre alternate universe the flesh-and-blood citizen dares to consider whether or not the *EMPLOYER* is *WORTHY* (gasp) of HIM!). To quote another participant in this thread: "It has been my personal experience, having audited a University for license compliance alone, that internal politics often prevents best practices from being implemented,..".

Maybe, just maybe, Mathias has a RIGHT to an informed decision about whether or not he wants to tie his fortunes, his career, his professional development, and the next several years of his life (at least) to this particular organization. Maybe he has a right to know if he's walking into some political morass, and maybe he has a right to data that will help him make that determination.

Or maybe he doesn't. But it's certainly true that the University has the right to examine below the surface of lots of information that Mathias will offer. And if they don't have the right, well then they'll just offer you a paper to sign giving them the right to examine your police record, credit history, your urine, and lord knows what else, and of course you don't HAVE to sign it, and thanks for your time there's plenty of other applicants for the job.

In this country the corporate citizen with limited liability was invented during the 19th century. It took several decades before society would admit to itself that they'd created an entity which could work poor people literally to death, and that maybe some regulatory statutes were a good idea.

My sense is that the evolving mores, ethics, and coming along behind them the laws, in the Electronic Village (and there is only one) are so far much better for the big folks than the little guys.

PS - I wrote most of this in the evenings.

Yours,

Kurt Reimer

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