Thursday, June 27, 2019

Engineering: The Interloper Phenomena

The Interloper Phenomena

This is a computer folklore story I heard many years ago. The story illustrated the essence of technology security. I do not know how the actual story’s facts, however, the story can be told with different facts; however, the essence and outcome would be the same. 

In the mid-1970s, Wang was a company in Massachusetts who fostered a computer-based word processing system. Boston legal companies hired armies of legal secretaries. The secretaries would type pages and pages of legal documents flawlessly without errors. Most legal contracts required multiple original documents for signatures. The effort required to constantly key typewriters quickly and accurately could take years to be highly skilled. A typical large law firm could have dozens of legal secretaries. 

Wang’s marketing to the law firm was a simple business proposal. A Wang word processing system can replace many legal secretaries. The cost and the return made eliminating legal secretaries and easy business decision. 

From the legal secretary perspective, the word processor would destroy a craft that took years to perfect. Management offered training on the new system. The secretaries revolted and walked out of the offices. When the revolt quieted, the secretaries return to their offices. Upon entering the room, all the desks, and all the typewriters were gone. At the room’s center were a desk and a word processor. Management still offered training, but only a few secretaries would have a job.

This story is a framework for security schemes that repeats over and over. Security never has full immunity from agents of change. The design, development, and use of a security system establishes an entity with characteristics.  A security entity has two sides safety and risk. Within each side, the characteristics are the targets for the change agent. The phenomena caused by the change can be benign to malicious.    

An interloper is something or someone that interferes with a security system. The change agent is the interloper. The legal secretaries experienced the word processor as an interloper that intruded their hard-earned profession. A hacker is an interloper that breached the modern technology system. A mosquito biting the skin is an interloper. A bolt of lightning in a forest can be an interloper that causes a forest fire.

The term “interloper phenomena” refers to the action of the interloper and events regarding the interloper’s action.  A security consultant may recommend means to avoid an interloper phenomenon. A damage assessment team may resolve the effects of interloper phenomena.  The change caused by the word processor, the hacker, the mosquito, and the lighting are examples of the interloper phenomena.

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