I was reading an article in one of my favorite security magazines, and the author mentioned a phrase and included the parenthetical thought “(Google that)”. At first, this seemed comical but a short paragraph later, the author repeated the technique, advising the reader to “Google that” with respect to another thought. This phrase doesn't just pop up in magazine articles, either. About a week ago, I asked a friend a question, and their response was “Can I Google that for you?” Regardless of whether the author’s intent was to save space, or whether my friend’s response was a snarky “kiss-off,” both of these incidents made me stop to think of how we in information security respond when we are asked questions. How often do we instinctively direct others to use a search engine instead of offering our unique perspective on a topic? In the area of information security, it is very easy for us to direct people to search engines or to send numerous links to web pages that explain some of the arcane areas of our profession. However, that does not help us at the water cooler, and it certainly will not help in the boardroom. Computer security is a field of infinite acronyms and sometimes confusing concepts. When people come to us and ask us a question, they do not want to know how to find it elsewhere. Perhaps the question is very elementary, such as “How does my browser remember that I have been on a web site?” Alternatively, it may be complicated, such as, “How does public key cryptography work?” The folks who ask us these questions are relying on us to be the subject matter expert. Acknowledging this, nothing is more damaging to us and to our profession as a whole than for us to respond with an off-putting redirection to a search engine. Will you know the answer to every technical question? Of course not, and when that happens it is up to you to let the person know that you will try to find the answer to their question. This maintains an open dialogue between you and the questioner, which means that you should aim to follow up on the conversation. Google is a marvelous tool for finding information about anything imaginable. That was the intent and the vision of Google’s founders. It is therefore to be expected that many of the innovations that Google's engineers are working on will have major implications for us across all of our lives. If you let your mind wander along one Project Soli, for example, it is not difficult to imagine the types of positive changes that Google can make, such as by offering granular knob control for people with disabilities or by enabling rapid actions such as the turning of an emergency valve in a nuclear power plant. Google can most definitely help humanity, but it was never meant to replace it. When people ask a question of us, we should show our most humane side by first realizing that if they wanted a search engine result, they most certainly would not have approached us. When they come to us to ask us about technology, let’s show them that we can do it without the aid of a search engine.
About the Author: Bob Covello (@BobCovello) is a 20-year technology veteran and InfoSec analyst with a passion for security topics. He is also a volunteer for various organizations focused on advocating for and advising others about staying safe and secure online. Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc. Title image courtesy of ShutterStock