Security Is My Business

It ain't a pretty racket, but somebody's gotta do it

Tim O'Connor

It was a hot and sticky night in town. I was at the office late. I had a new book slapped open across my knee, because a client who always paid on time had asked me to evaluate it. I turned the pages without really noticing what they said. The how-to books don't interest me much. I could write up a report on this one without wasting my time reading every page.

I opened my window and left it open. All I got for the trouble was a hot breeze and a racket from the street way down below, which made me even more restless and itchy. It felt like a night when anything could happen. Nights like that, I try to get home fast, so I can stay out of trouble. It was my own fault that I was still around when the little man in the blue suit showed up.

He knocked on my office door weakly and pushed his way in without waiting for me to answer. I have a knack for attracting this kind of business. I leave my door ajar for guys like this.

He didn't say a word. All he did was slump down in my spare chair. I knew right then that it was a security problem. A serious security problem. I waited for him to start talking. They always start talking when they have security problems. All you need to do is sit. All you need to do is wait, and listen. And soon enough you learn to listen very carefully, and then you bill just as carefully as you listen.

The little man took off his hat and crushed it in his lap. He was stoop-shouldered even when he was in a chair. I made him out to be a small-time system manager in some company that probably paid him a lot of money and expected too much in return. He had that kind of worried look I recognized in the ones who go to work on Wall Street -- but I knew no serious firm would entrust its operations to a guy who looked like this. I had plenty of contacts downtown. I was willing to bet a day's pay that this guy was a nobody, bankrolled by a private outfit that had plenty of cash and gave him new priorities five times a week, then yelled at him for being unproductive.

You had plenty of those operations around town. I made easy money from many of them, because the people in charge were always willing to write out a big check to someone who would come in from outside and second-guess their own tech staff.

When I took these jobs, I liked to drop in and talk things over with the insiders and then, in the end, if the staff seemed solid and the shop was secure, I enjoyed telling the guys in the suits that they ought to start trusting their own people. I never had any use for the slimy types in my business who come in for a day or two and write a lazy report that slams the working stiffs who run the computers.

I set the book aside, out of sight, and swung my feet up onto my desk. I looked the little man up and down. Then I asked him, "How badly were you compromised?" Sometimes the direct approach works best.

His face turned the color of wet newspaper. "Bad," he said. "Bad. The worst. I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. I don't even know where to begin checking." He looked around the office. His face twitched. "Are we alone?"

I looked around the room. "It looks like it." My office is about as empty as an office can get. One desk, two chairs, and a garbage can.

He leaned toward me. "You don't have a tape recorder going, do you?"

I shrugged. "I don't own a tape recorder, Mister."

"I'm just checking," he said.