Security lessons from Nature – Fire ants and lizard evolution
Borneo is a fascinating place. It is a land of edible birds nests, dragon’s blood and gold. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the parachuting cats (pages 29 and 31 are best, or, if you prefer, there’s a boring version.) But as much fun as the cat story is, I’d like to talk about ants instead. Ants, lizards, and the economy.
The news about the US economy isn’t all that good… depending on what “good” means. I personally have my doubts as to whether ever-increasing growth is a good thing. When that happens in a population like Borneo, we call it an epidemic (malaria) or an infestation (rats). When it happens in a person, we call it cancer. When it happens in the stock market, we call it “business as usual”. Methinks that there’s a misunderstanding somewhere, but I’ll let the economists handle that.
As I look at the news over the Internet and I hear from my friends, I’m seeing companies failing and people being laid off/let go/fired. Whatever terms you want to use, it’s pretty awful for people whose jobs are on the line, as they are in a position where they don’t have control over their own lives (much as if they were fighting malaria or cancer, actually). It is not surprising that the phrase “job security” would be bandied about right about now. For years I’ve been told “there’s no such thing as job security” and that I should “work to put myself out of work”. This doesn’t make much sense on the face of it, but when you get down to it, it’s all about control. In a lot of businesses, the bosses are in control and the employees do what they’re told. In others, the bosses and the employees work together to build something better. The former model is hierarchical and the latter model is cooperative.
Which brings me directly to ants and lizards.
See, in an ant society, you have very strict roles. The queen’s job is to lay eggs. The drones’ job is to mate with the queen, which sounds like a nice job, but they then have to die (always read your employment contract). Then you have the workers which, well, work. Then, some species will also produce soldiers who protect the nest. The model works well, and the ants are able to build very complex structures and societies within it, but the queen has all the control.
Lizards, in contrast, just sorta hatch and spend the rest of their lives eating things and laying about on rocks. Each lizard has their own autonomy and is in control of their respective lives. No one talks much about lizard edifices. Outside of science fiction and Minnesota, no one talks much about lizard societies.
But you know, they should… because the lizards are winning.
Recent developments on the fire ants vs lizards front has led to lizards evolving longer legs and faster speed. In contrast, the ants on Borneo are blowing themselves up. As with much in live, it all comes back to Borneo.
See, in Borneo, the ants are required to be suicide bombers because each suicide also takes out one invader. Taken as a whole, allowing harm to come to a few workers here and there keeps the colony safe and stable. Seems a bit like laying people off to keep the company afloat, doesn’t it? In contrast, the lizards who have learned to run away from threatening ants have survived and become successful enough for them to produce children that are even faster. They can escape the ants. They might even be able to escape parachuting cats (short version here if you skipped the earlier links).
It seems that, unless you’re independently wealthy, you have a choice to make. You can be an ant and lay your job on the chopping block to help out your company, or you can be a lizard and scurry from project to project, moving so fast that the other ants can’t keep up. Your company may or may not survive, but if you’re fast enough and good enough, you’ll likely land on your feet (like a parachuting cat, actually).
Security is an active pursuit. Your IT systems won’t stay secure if you just lock things down and then ignore them. Your job won’t stay secure if you sit around and hope for things to get better. Your business won’t stay secure if you wait for an outsider to fly over your island and drop cats on you.
Now is the perfect time to be a long-legged lizard.