The Packet Rat | Today's lesson: Do as I say, not as they do
Michael J. Bechetti
It's hard to teach kids to be honest, upstanding citizens when the most obviously successful people in the world are duplicitous, deceitful and dirty. So, when one of the high and mighty gets caught, the Rat feels duty-bound to hold those captains of industry and polity'and their actions'up for scrutiny and mercilessly tear them apart for his children's education.
So when it was revealed recently that Hewlett-Packard Co. chairwoman Patricia Dunn had ordered private investigators to mine the personal phone records of board members to find out who was leaking information to CNET, it was inevitable that the Rat would turn the events into a teaching moment.
'What does 'pretexting' mean again, Daddy?' asked the cyberrodent's young daughter.
'Basically, it means that someone pretends to be someone else to get information about that person from someone else'like, in this case, from the phone company,' he explained. 'They got to look at the phone records of people, including board members and news reporters, by pretending to be them.'
'But didn't the National Security Agency do the same thing?' the ratlette asked innocently.
'Uh, not exactly,' the Rat replied. 'They asked the phone companies nicely to share their information so they could look for patterns in everybody's phone calls'not just a few people's.'
'So what NSA did was worse than what HP did?' the wirebiter's youngest son queried, confusedly.
'No, no, no. NSA was doing what it did to find bad people.'
Wheels spun in the ratlette's head. 'But wasn't the board member that the lady was looking for a bad person, too? He was telling secrets to people. When people at your work tell people secrets, don't you say they're bad?'
The Rat began to realize that this might not be the clearest teaching point he had ever seized.
'Well, sweetheart, there are laws that say we're not allowed to tell secrets to people at my work. That's because people could do bad things with the secrets we keep. The person who was telling secrets about Hewlett-Packard wasn't breaking any laws ... I don't think. But that's not important. What's important is that HP's contractors pretended to be the people they were investigating in order to find out who they had called, and that's not something people are allowed to do. ...'
'Unless they work for the president,' interjected the eldest ratling, who had sat silently picking at lint on his skate-shoes until that moment.
'Can we lay off the president for just a minute?' the Rat groaned. 'My point is, it's like I always say,' the Rat lectured. 'You have to lead by example. If you want people to respect you and do what you say, you need to do it, too'when you're in charge of making sure a company is run honestly, you don't sneak around and spy on people and lie to other people to find out their secrets.'
After a moment of reflection, the teenage rodent said, 'So what you're saying is, people might copy you if you're in a position of authority over them and you do bad things.'
'Yes!' the whiskered one cried victoriously.
'So,' the senior progeny continued, 'what you're saying is that it's President Bush's fault that Hewlett-Packard's chairman hired spies to check board members' and reporters' phone records illegally, because they were copying what he was doing to everyone in the country.'
'No! Of course not! The HP thing happened in January, and nobody had even heard of NSA's phone-tapping yet. ...' The Rat slapped his forehead, and surrendered. 'OK, forget about HP. Let's talk about the crooked former governor of Illinois.'
'The one who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his death penalty moratorium?' his eldest son smirked.
'Yeah, that moonbat,' the Rat sighed. 'OK, you win. Just don't let me catch you pretexting your teachers again.'The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.