I’m not going to comment at length, just tell you that Steve Bellovin has a great analysis of the recent incident where Anonymous eavesdropped on a conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard. As usual, Steve zeroes right in on the poor practices that allowed this to happen. Go read it.
Archive for February, 2012
My alma mater, Vassar College, has been in the news lately over an error in it’s admissions web site, which led 76 early decision applicants to believe they had been admitted when they had not. As the Times tells it:
On Friday, around 4 p.m., 122 students who had applied for binding early admission to Vassar saw what the school later called a “test letter” congratulating them on their acceptance. Hours later, the students received a message saying the letter had been posted in error. Once the correct decisions were displayed, only 46 of the students were told they had been accepted.
Vassar has since sent apologies to the students, to all of us alumnae/i, and other interested parties. They are refunding the application fees for the rejected students. There has been some debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere about whether or not these applicants should have been admitted anyway.
For technologists, this speaks to the cost of the error, but the interesting part is the underlying cause. This looks to me like yet another example of the bad things that happen when testing is done in the production environment. In this case 76 teenagers involved in what was already a very stressful process were forced to ride an emotional roller coaster of disappointment and embarrassment. In other cases there can be large financial and even regulatory consequences when test transactions were accidentally put onto production systems and sent to counter-parties. Most senior technologists know a horror story or three on this topic, although they don’t like sharing them.
While there is increasing recognition of the need to better segregate production and test environments, it is both expensive and inconvenient to do so. In times of budgetary restraint, projects to fix this problem can get postponed until the next accident happens. I think companies would be wiser to work on this gradually and incrementally. Trying to do nothing and trying to do everything all at once are equally unrealistic.