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Who Are You?

Who are you?

That one question defines so much of you. Thinking about the question defines you. Specifically, how you think about that question. In Infosec you have to be analytical. Whether you work or desire to work at a strategic (leadership), operational (cooperative), or tactical (technical) level, the ability to ask the right questions, and analyze questions asked is part of the job. What are you trying to find out? What will that information get you? Why is getting that information important? What does the person asking the question want to know? What do they need to know? Are they asking for what they need? What questions will the answer you give prompt? A proper analytic question is the start of a series of multi-order effects birthed by the series of questions that spawn from the first one.

By virtue of reading this blog, I'd bet money you have created a profile on at least one social media site, even if it was for a short time. If you haven't, you've at least read one profile on social media. The odds that neither are true are smaller then a rounding error to significant digits. Think of any profile you have read. There is a character limit. They are designed to be small blurbs, succinct, and by their very nature incomplete. And that is the problem - especially in Infosec.

A moment in time can change a life. A person's most outrageous experience in life comes down to one single moment. Every social media post, upload, and interaction is at best one moment in time. Sometimes the ones we want to show the world. Often it is one's weakness, rage, or hate, vile and unfiltered. And very disturbing, this is prevalent in Infosec. Even worse, those in Infosec are willing to judge based on one moment. What makes that an egregious sin is Infosec is supposed to be so analytical. A moment in time is an indicator. And an indicator without adversarial TTPs only shows what happened right at that moment. If that. Investigators who claim to be purely analytical when dealing with a digital indicator will then judge someone worthy of damnation (or termination from whatever job they have) based on an indicator. And based on a truly perverted sense of absolutist justice.

One of the great moments in the movie High Fidelity is when John Cusack explains why Joan Cusack came into his shop and referred to him in a very unkind fashion. He then explains four pieces of information his ex-girlfriend most likely shared with Joan that painted him in a very unflattering light. He then explains to the audience that each of these four horrible things was absolutely true. He then goes on to rationalize (minimize) these behaviors. Knowing full well that the audience is judging his character, he looks into the camera and gives the audience a pop quiz. Think of the top five all time worst things you've done to your mate that they don't know about. There is a pause, giving the audience time to think. Then he gives the line of the movie: now who's the fucking asshole.

Infosec rationalizes it's bad behavior under the justification that people don't understand the fight we had to get where we are. There is no easy in to this part of technology. We see evil intent and behavior as part of our job, so in comparison our snap judgements, our condemnations, our willingness to hurt (trying to take someone's job away so they can't eat, have shelter, have transportation is a most cruel hurt) shouldn't be held against us - we fight the bad guys. We see a moment in time, and depending on who the perceived slight would hurt judgement is hurled. Ends (vanquishing evil) justifies the means (inflicting harm).

Except we're looking at one point in time. Infosec people would make a very bad juror. Think back to a judgement, whether hurled in a tweet, said behind someone's back, or used to cause harm. Think of the worst, or the most recent. To quote Cusack, now who's the fucking asshole?

I am fortunate. Whether it's my path, age, having lived life ever on the outside, or likely a combination of the above, I focus on my bias more and more often. I focus on the source of that bias. I focus on how it affects my life. I focus on how it will be viewed by others. My most reoccurring maxim is Words Matter, and that is continually apropos, moment by moment.  My words reflect my bias.

I was taught by individuals, by collective groups, and by my state government that, on the basis of my demographic, I was disposable, and that the world was justified in disposing me based on actions of others long dead, or with more resources and power than I will ever have. Therefore, those who cling to victimhood, as if they were special, or that the history of their identity group should grant them favor or recompense, I identify as weak and untrustworthy. Bias.

I have always been on the outside of whatever large groups I wished to belong to. I have seen and experienced the injustice of the mob. I have experienced those in power applying different rules to me than the group because I wasn't part of the group. I see larger groups that won't police themselves as corrupt and incapable of being a voice to justice. People don't ask forgiveness because they are sorry, they ask forgiveness to avoid punishment. Bias.

Like Colm Meaney's character Gene in Layer Cake, I'm too loyal for my own good. Very often I've held up my end of a deal based on a promise - real or strongly implied - that the other side never had any real basis to honor. A former boss told me that in ten years of reference checks, my former managers gave the exact same weakness, when asked about mine. When he's part of a project or a team and people aren't holding up their end, he won't let it fail. He puts on boots and a cape and saves the day, every single time. That makes him reliable, and difficult to work with. People will abuse my ethic. People will find a way to betray. On a long enough timeline, people will show they can't be trusted. I discard people who betray my trust with great ease. Bias.

Depending on how you read that, your bias shows. Do you see someone who has overcome adversity, understands his responsibility in life to himself and others, and works to keep the team from failing and to preserve earned trust? Or, do you see an angry man who never fit in and won't give people a chance? That's your bias. No matter which you choose, judgement based on three paragraphs shows bias. And if you say you didn't, you're either Detective Columbo or a liar. And Columbo is dead.

And that's the point. Bias seeps into everything. It colors your judgement. I have taken seemingly extreme actions in some factions of life lately. They weren't based on a single indicator, but people's TTPs (pattern of behavior). I've paid a price for it. That price will collect a reoccurring fee of opportunities and allies lost for a long time. Those choices were made for the right reasons, even if the outcomes attempt to reinforce my biases.

So who are you? You are far more than a profile or post. You need to understand you. Understand as much of you as you can define, as you can put into thought. Once you can do that, you can start to view that from the other side of the looking glass with Alice. Analyze. Like a good investigator. Like a good communicator. Like a good researcher. Once you've identified your bias, you can work to overcome it. Like a good human being.

Both an infinite collection of moments in time, and their sum total. That's who you are.


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