Lessons from the FBI: when in doubt, leave it alone

Anthony Caruana
22 February, 2016
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Having spent the better part of 20 years working in corporate IT, there’s one thing I know for an absolute certainty.

When something goes wrong, it’s certain that your actions in the first moments immediately after an incident will make things worse, rather than better.

Just ask the FBI – the directive of which to a San Bernardino Country IT worker resulted in a known terrorist’s iPhone 5c becoming locked and spawning a massive legal battle with our data privacy the meat in the FBI and Apple’s sandwich.

Many IT people approach situations with a ‘I must fix it’ attitude. With many IT workers cutting their teeth in support roles where quick responses are considered critical, it’s no surprise when a problem strikes that they quickly swing into action.

The trouble is, when something serious goes wrong, the fix is seldom simple and usually requires taking a step back to assess the situation before acting.

Serious IT issues, such as recovering deleted data or accessing locked systems, are not straightforward tasks.

Although there are many tools for these and other complex problems, it’s critical to take a step back before acting to assess the situation, ask for expert advice and then making a plan before acting.

The FBI, to its own embarrassment, has made a difficult situation worse and created a legal and political tinderbox.

Perhaps that was the aim, but this entire issue could have been avoided had the Bureau consulted with Apple before tampering with the iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.

The same goes with your business. When an IT disaster strikes, stop and get expert assistance before you start meddling with technical equipment. Even if you know what you are doing, there’s no harm in getting confirmation that you’re doing the right thing before acting.

This is something the FBI should have known from the outset.

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