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I Make Mistakes

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Now for a moment of transparency from your friendly information security professional: I make mistakes. Seriously, I say things I shouldn't say or don't really mean. I do things that I later regret. To be frank - you make mistakes, too. We all make mistakes - we're human and that's life. We do our best to dust ourselves off and move on.

For those of us who made legally significant mistakes during our younger years, there was a certain amount of relief and satisfaction that came with our juvenile records being sealed. It was like our slate had been wiped clean. A humorous antithesis of the clean slate can be found in the movie, "Bruce Almighty." There is a scene in the movie where Bruce (Jim Carrey) finds a filing cabinet containing all the details of his life - everything he had ever said, done, or even thought.

For many of us, the prospect of someone having access to such a filing cabinet would be alarming. The unfortunate truth is that for anyone who's ever received an email, sent a text message, or posted on your friend's MySpace page, that filing cabinet exists. It's called the Internet. There is an alarming level of permanence to digital information, especially if it is ever transmitted from one computer to another or accessed through a web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer). In many cases, just deleting the file or the email does little to get rid of it.

The permanence of information is a problem for individuals and organizations, alike. The solution for individuals is to stop and think; view everything in light of how it would look in your life's filing cabinet. Organizations need to take that approach one step further by restricting their employees' access to their "filing cabinets." Organizations can be damaged through the loss of sensitive or proprietary information, in addition to the reputation and name brand damage that can be incurred through ill-advised employee communication. Therefore, organizations should evaluate the types of communication that are allowed from work (email, networking sites, instant messaging, etc.), restricting those that are too risky and monitoring the rest.

For an entertaining view of information permanence on the web, check out old versions of some of your favorite web sites using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org/index.php.