Security Lessons from Nature – Natalids and Stargate Universe
So, I’m reading a book on the mammals of Costa Rica. (Why? Because it’s more interesting than watching Stargate Universe, that’s why. (Which says a lot about the quality of storytelling these days.)) In the chapter on bats, I ran across a mention of a natalid organ.
“That’s funny…”, I thought. “I’ve never heard of that!”
So off to the Google I go, to google about and, as it turns out, waste a good hour reading about bat taxonomy. (Which is still better than watching Stargate Universe!) Here’s what I learned:
There are these bats, see, that have an organ. It’s more than one species, it’s in a lot of them… but no one knows what it does!
- Discover Life reports that the cells may be sensory or secretory.
- Novel Guide tells us that it’s bell shaped and can cover the entire muzzle (though Answers.com suggests that that’s not always the case).
- Brain Museum implies that the presence of the organ may be linked to the lack of a nose leaf. (What’s a nose leaf, you ask? Go research it yourself, I’m busy with natalids.)
- Bob’s Bat Cave, despite having perhaps one of the coolest names on the Internet, indicates that the organ is below the skin on the forehead, though other sites place it at the back of the muzzle. (This seems like a conflict to me, but perhaps I don’t know my way around a bat’s head very well.)
- Lastly, Animal Diversity gives us the useful information that only Natalids have natalid organs. Of course, the group of bats known as natalids are defined as those bats that have natalid organs, so that information is less useful than it may initially appear.
I might have learned more, had I given J STOR $19 for the full article, but let’s face it, I’m just a Stargate fan who is oddly distracted by bats, and it would be unwise to give my bad research habits free rein.
So what is all of this doing on an I.T. security blog? I haven’t the faintest clue… and that’s the important thing. The number one biggest threat out there isn’t the mysterious Chinese hacker of the organized criminals writing malware. The most dangerous threat is that of poorly-documented legacy systems. These systems exist on every business network I’ve seen. They lurk in the dark corners, staring at admins and, well, do something… I think… maybe. These systems are dangerous because:
- We have to keep them running.
- We don’t know what they do.
Most people therefore, set them on the network and proceed to ignore them until they break. Maybe all they do is serve a few static web pages. Maybe, though, they process proprietary data. However, since we don’t know, we can’t pick an appropriate method of securing them.
We can’t turn them off, because it might harm the business, just like we can’t go up to random bats and remove the natalid organ. If we don’t know what it does, we often can’t take the risk of killing the business (or bat) by removing it to find out. (Just like we can’t take the risk of not trying the new Stargate series, as they might be awesome as SG1 (though, admittedly, history has not born this out)).
We can look deeper into the systems and possibly get an insight (“hmm, it’s kinda slimy, but it also looks like it might be a detector”). We can ask those that use it what they use it for (which might be more effective in your coworkers than it is on bats). Or, we can just name it and leave it alone (“well, it’s gotta be there for a reason, right?”)…
Which works until someone like me comes along and thinks “what the heck is a natalid organ?”, and starts digging into the problem. Because at that point, you have to justify one of two likely scenarios:
- Why you kept a legacy system running and consuming resources when it serves no valid purpose to the business.
- Why you failed to adequately secure and plan migration paths for a business-critical system.
Really, it’s probably better to find out what it does and document the thing. Luckily, we have technologies now that allow us to record inputs and outputs and clone systems, so the process should be a lot less messy than dissecting the muzzle of a bat or figuring what on Earth the producers of Stargate Universe are thinking.