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Shredding: New and Old Risks

By Dan Hadaway | Saturday, December 10, 2011 - Leave a Comment

In these days of drill-down risk assessments on new technologies and issues ranging from mobile banking to customer awareness to social media to FILs and Supplements, I’m often asked: “Since we now have to track these risk assessment triggers do we need to continue the annual risk assessment?”

The answer is yes.

This can be illustrated by an interesting article my friend Joe Cychosz just liked on his Facebook page.

Elizabeth Montalbano of InformationWeek reports about a challenge held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to solve complex puzzles comprised of shredded documents.   Somebody rose to the challenge, and using math and computers, reconstructed five documents that had been shredded into 10,000 pieces.  They won $50,000.

In other words, shredding as a control just grew weaker.

Now I agree that the likelihood of somebody spending 600 hours manually trying out pattern combinations generated by complex computer programs on shredded documents stolen from your shred-company is very low.

But this article makes an interesting way to put out that:

1)    The controls we “declare” this year may not work as strong next year.  Bad guys learn ways around them.  Good guys forget about them.

2)    The likelihood of an attack this year may not be as low next year.  New attack methods can increase the likelihood of an attack.

3)    The value of a target (and thus the likelihood of an attack) can change over time.  If somebody can bottle the process up so that it only takes 20 hours to assemble the most likely permutations of shred pattern matches, it might be worth reassembling a report with a thousand names.  What was typically a worthless target (shreddings) may increase in value.

4)    Finally, the impact of an attack can change over time.  If a breach occurs today because somebody spent 600 hours reassembling a critical report, I don’t think it will hurt anybody reputationally.  It might even give them the ability to turn the situation into good press.  But ten years from now, you have to wonder if “algorhythm proof shredders” will be a high-risk issue on everybody’s audit checklists.

So yes, we need to dust off the “All-encompassing Ever-Growing Information Technology Risk Assessment” every year, taking a quick look at all asset-vulnerability pairs that were deemed “moderate/low” last year.


Founder and President, Infotex


“Dan’s New Leaf” is a “fun blog to inspire thought in the area of IT Governance.”



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