Danger when ingenuity outstrips security

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 January, 2013, 1:50am

As a virtue of leadership, the art of delegation is the subject of quotes by famous people from all walks of life. One attributed to General George Patton, a famous American second world war commander in Europe, said: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." Patton may have been ahead of his time on the battlefield but he could not have imagined his grandchildren's generation would be computerised, or just how ingenious it could be.

Take "Bob", a pseudonym used for security reasons for a software developer for an American company dealing in sensitive "critical infrastructure". As we report today, he outsourced his work to a Chinese tech company for less than a fifth of his six-figure US-dollar salary, while he busied himself at his desk by surfing the web, watching videos, chatting on Facebook and shopping on eBay. His output seemed so good that his bosses, ingenuously on their part, didn't mind that he also took long breaks. He lost his job when a security check by service provider Verizon revealed that his system credentials were being used for remote access from China.

In a world where economic and trade relationships have been shaped by outsourcing and delegation including, ironically, that by US tech companies, Bob's story has had mixed reviews. While Verizon bloggers hailed him as a genius who understood the art of delegation, a Chinese developer lamented having to do his "dirty work" for a cheap price.

The affair bears out Patton's general observation about delegation but, of course, he was not to know about the potential for abuse created by telecommuting and outsourcing. It would be amusing if it were not for the implications for the mutual trust essential to conduct of business. Bob is hardly the medal-worthy American hero who created a job for someone else, as some have made him out. That said, business would be the loser if delegation - and initiative - were stifled as a result. Far better that security keep up with ingenuity.